Birth Control Options: What Is A Diaphragm? How Does It Work?

confused girl shrugging

Not sure what a diaphragm is? We’ve got answers! Source: Shutterstock

Today we’re continuing our discussion of what kinds of birth control options exist out there. We’ve already covered IUDs and the Depo-Provera shot, so today we’re discussing another form of birth control: the diaphragm.

A diaphragm is a physical barrier form of birth control that is made of rubber or silicone and is in a cup-shape. You insert it into your vagina so that it will sit at the opening of your cervix.

As Planned Parenthood points out, to be the most effective, a diaphragm needs to be used with spermicide, which you put in the diaphragm before inserting it into your body. This way, the spermicide is able to stop sperm’s movement and the diaphragm itself blocks the path to the uterus, both aiding in pregnancy prevention. You keep it in place for six hours after sex, and then you remove it.

Before you can get a diaphragm, you’ll need to get a fitting with your doctor and then you’ll get a prescription for one. In terms of upkeep, you may need to be refitted over time (a diaphragm lasts about two years) or because of certain body changes.

You also should inspect your diaphragm on the regular to make sure no holes or cracks develop, as well as wash it after use with mild soap and water. Some women have reactions to the spermicide or diaphragm material, or may have side effects like persistent UTIs, so it’s important to talk with your doctor if you have concerns.

In terms of effectiveness, it isn’t quite as effective as other birth control messages we have talked about. The way its effectiveness as a birth control option is rated is on both its “perfect use” (everything is done totally correctly and used every time) and “typical use” (how most people tend to do it).

The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, notes that diaphragms have a 6 percent failure rate with perfect use (so 6 out of every 100 women using them will get pregnant). With typical use, the failure rate is 12 percent. It is also important to point out that diaphragms do not protect you against STDs (so say it with me now, “Always use a condom!“).

Diaphragms have been around since the 1830s, but you may not have really heard about the diaphragm because it’s less popular these days than other birth control methods. Ms. Magazine actually wrote a piece back in 2010 called, “Where’d The Diaphragm Disappear To,” citing how less than one percent of women in North America and northwestern Europe used the diaphragm for birth control.

Still, it remains an option that exists, and perhaps could be right for you. As always, you can (and should) discuss your birth control options with your doctor to find what will work best for your life and needs.

Had you heard of the diaphragm before? Is it a birth control option you’ve discussed with your doctor? Tell us in the comments!

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  • nirvenna

    Do a section on the Nexplanon/Implanon implant! It’s a really good birth control that people need to be more aware about!