The cervical cap is a barrier method of birth control, which means that it blocks the sperm from entering the uterus. This device looks like a small cup or thimble. It usually is made of silicone, rubber or latex and fits over the cervix. Cervical caps are not widely used, particularly in the United States. As of 2010, there was only one brand for sale in the U.S.
A woman must see a health care provider to be fitted and get a prescription in order to obtain a cervical cap. There are three different sizes, designed for women with varying obstetrical histories. If a woman has never been pregnant, she would need the smallest size, whereas a woman who has been pregnant but never given birth vaginally would need the middle size. A woman who has previously had a vaginal birth would use the largest size.
The cervical cap typically is used with spermicide. Before intercourse, the woman must apply spermicide directly to the cap and insert it into her vagina, until is covering her cervix. The device must remain in place for at least six to eight hours, and it is safe to leave it in for as long as 48 hours. If a couple has intercourse more than once, more spermicide must be added each time. After use, the cervical cap should be washed with warm water and antibacterial soap.
According to Planned Parenthood, the failure rate for females who have not been pregnant or had a vaginal birth is 14 percent, which means that out of 100 women, 14 became pregnant using the cervical cap. The failure rate for women who have had vaginal births is 29 percent. With all methods of contraception, effectiveness increases when one uses it correctly.
Some advantages of the cervical cap include portability, reusability and relatively small size. It also is usually not felt by either individual during intercourse, if placed correctly. Another advantage is that it does not affect a woman's hormones and is immediately reversible.
There are some disadvantages to using the cervical cap. It might be difficult to learn how to use, and it must be in place before every occurrence of vaginal intercourse. The device cannot be used during menstruation, and it might need to be replaced with a larger size after a woman becomes pregnant or gives birth. Perhaps most importantly, compared to some other methods of contraception, the failure rate is high.
The cervical cap is relatively safe to use; the most common side effect is some vaginal irritation. Some women who have had pelvic inflammatory disease, have had cervicitis or have an abnormally shaped cervix should not use this method of birth control. It is not an effective method of protecting against sexually transmitted diseases.