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Cervical Cap

What Is It?
A cervical cap is a small, thimble-shaped cup made of rubber that fits over the cervix (the area between the vagina and the uterus). It is considered one of the barrier methods of birth control because it provides a physical barrier between a guy's sperm and a girl's egg.

How Does It Work?
The cervical cap keeps sperm from entering the uterus by forming a seal around the cervix. For added protection, spermicide is put into the cap before inserting the cap snugly over the cervix.

The cap is inserted before having sex and can be left in place for up to 48 hours. Once in place, there is no need for additional spermicide every time a couple has sex. After sex, it must be left in place for at least 6 hours. It can be removed by placing a finger into the vagina to pull it out.

After each time it is used, the cap must be washed, rinsed, and dried, then stored in its case. It should not be dusted with baby powder and should never be used with oil-based lubricants such as mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or baby oil. These substances can cause the rubber to become brittle and crack. Other vaginal creams, such as medicines for yeast infection, can also damage the rubber.

How Well Does It Work?
Over the course of 1 year, 16 to 20 out of 100 typical couples who rely on the cervical cap to prevent pregnancy will have an accidental pregnancy. For women and teens that have had a baby, the cervical cap is even less effective: 40 out of 100 typical couples who use the cervical cap will have an accidental pregnancy. Of course, these are average figures and the chance of getting pregnant depends on whether you use this method of birth control correctly and every time you have sex.

In general, how well each type of birth control method works depends on a lot of things. These include whether a person has any health conditions or is taking any medications that might interfere with its use. It also depends on whether the method chosen is convenient - and whether the person remembers to use it correctly all the time.

Abstinence (the decision to not have sex) is the only method that always prevents pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Protection Against STDs
The cervical cap does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs>). For those having sex, condoms must always be used along with the cervical cap to protect against STDs.

Possible Side Effects
Most women who use the cervical cap have no problems. The few side effects some women do have include:

  • Spermicides may irritate the vagina and surrounding skin.
  • Strong odors or vaginal discharge may appear if the cervical cap is left in too long.
  • The rubber or latex in the cervical cap may cause an allergic reaction (this is rare).
  • Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare complication.

Who Uses It?
The cervical cap is not recommended for most young women, and it is not a recommended form of birth control for teens. It can be very difficult to insert correctly because it involves reaching all the way to the cervix with your fingers. It can sometimes also be knocked out of place during intercourse, which can result in pregnancy.

The cervical cap isn't very popular in the United States, which also means that it can be hard to find and may be expensive. A better option is the diaphragm, which works like the cervical cap but is much easier to use.

How Do You Get It?
A doctor must fit a patient with a cervical cap. During a pelvic exam, the doctor will measure your vagina and then determine which size cap is right for you. The doctor or nurse will then teach you how to insert and remove the cap.

How Much Does It Cost?
A cervical cap costs about $30 to $50 and should be replaced every year. In addition, there is also the cost of the doctor's visit and a fitting fee. Many health insurance plans cover these costs, and family planning clinics (such as Planned Parenthood) charge much less. In addition, the cost of spermicide is about $0.25 per use.

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