Condoms may be the most accessible barrier contraception, but they’re not the only birth control option. One alternative worn by women to prevent pregnancy is the cervical cap.
What is a cervical cap?
A cervical cap is a small, dome-shaped reusable cup made of silicone that comes in various sizes. It has a strap over the dome used for removal, and the brim has a short and long side.
To use it, you have to apply a spermicide (a cream or gel, formulated to kill sperm) on the device and insert it into your vagina prior to intercourse. The cervical cap serves like a shield that fits snugly over the cervix to prevent sperm from entering the uterus.
Oftentimes, it’s confused with a diaphragm, which looks like a bigger version of it. One major difference is that cervical caps are smaller. Because of the size and the design, a cervical cap also stays in place longer than a diaphragm and can be effective for up to 48 hours (vs. diaphragms, that can be worn for up to 24 hours only).
How do you put on a cervical cap?
Unlike condoms, you don’t have to wait for an erection and interrupt sex—put it on up to 42 hours before or right before intercourse. The insertion process is a bit like inserting a tampon or menstrual cup. Here are the steps:
- Disinfect your hands by washing with soap and water.
- Empty your bladder, then wash your vulva (the external part of the vagina), too.
- Apply spermicide all over the cervical cap, particularly inside and over the dome and on the brim.
- Find a comfortable position—standing with one foot on a chair, lying down with knees bent, or squatting, whichever works for you.
- Using one hand, hold the cervical cap. With the other, open the lips of your vulva.
- Squeeze the rim while inserting the cervical cap. The long side of the brim goes in first, and the dome (and the strap) should be facing down.
- Push the cervical cap deep into your vagina using one or two fingers.
- Make sure that the device completely and tightly covers your cervix by feeling it with your finger.
Can you remove the cervical cap right after sex?
No. You have to wait at least six hours post-intercourse before removing your cervical cap. But, don’t leave it on for more than 48 hours in total.
For removal, wash your hands again, and use one or two fingers to push the dome and break the suction. Hook the tip of your finger on the strap and gently pull it down. Use only soap and water to disinfect the device and allow it to air dry before storing it in its clean container.
How effective is it?
In a document called The Philippine Clinical Standards Manual on Family Planning, the Department of Health cited that cervical cap effectiveness is about 68 to 80 percent. This means that about 20 to 32 out of 100 women may get pregnant while relying on cervical caps.
The chances get higher if you’ve previously given birth vaginally. Like any birth control method, improper and inconsistent use increases the failure rate. And, in the same document, the DOH also cited that male condoms, in contrast, are more effective as contraception at 85 to 98 percent.
Who can use cervical caps?
It’s best for women or couples to consult a doctor, midwife, or nurse who offer family planning (FP) counseling. Due to the unsatisfactory effectiveness rate, anyone who opts for the cervical cap must fully understand and commit to its proper use.
The advantage is that the cervical cap doesn’t affect the enjoyment of sex. Most couples won’t even feel that it’s there when it’s correctly inserted. It also doesn’t disrupt a woman’s hormones and fertility unlike pills or birth control implants. Likewise, it’s an option if you (or your partner) have an allergy to latex (the material used for standard condoms).
Who it’s NOT for are women with reproductive diseases and infections. You will also be recommended alternatives if you’ve recently given birth or had a miscarriage or abortion (within six weeks), if you have an HIV infection or risk, and if you’re allergic to spermicides. You also can’t use it during your period.
Are there any risks or side effects to using it?
FYI, cervical caps also can’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Like in most barrier contraceptive methods, using a cervical cap increases your risk of getting vaginal and urinary tract infections. The spermicide used together with the device may also irritate the vagina.
Over time, cervical caps can be damaged, become stiff or thin, and become loose. It’s important to inspect the device before every use and replace it promptly for signs of wear and tear. With or without damage, cervical caps have to be replaced every two years.
Is it available in the Philippines?
After inquiring with the Department of Health and major pharmacies in the metro, we found out that the cervical cap isn’t readily available in the country. In the U.S., it requires a prescription, and it’s costly to get it imported from international distributors. Plus, you might run into issues like not getting the right fit.
If you’re considering cervical caps (or any other birth control method, really), consult your certified FP counselors or an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN). This way, your overall reproductive health can be assessed, and you can be provided counseling on the contraceptive method that suits your needs best.
Follow Ginyn on Instagram.