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Cervical Cap

cervical capsThe cervical cap is a small cap made of soft rubber. The woman puts spermicide (which kills sperm) into the cap and then places it up into her vagina and onto her cervix (the opening of the uterus or womb). Suction keeps the cap in place so sperm cannot enter the uterus.

Caps come in 4 sizes. Among typical couples who use a cervical cap before having a child, about 20% will experience an accidental pregnancy in the first year. If the cervical cap is used consistently and correctly, about 9% will become pregnant in the first year. More pregnancies occur if cervical cap use is started after a woman has had a child.

Complete information about this contraceptive is available from your clinician or from the package insert accompanying your cervical cap.

Advantages:

  • The cervical cap is small and easy to carry. It may be put in an hour before sex.

  • It will work for 48 hours.

  • It does not matter how many times you have sex as long as you leave it in at least 6-8 hours after the last time you have sex.

  • Your partner doesn't have to know you're using it.

  • The cervical cap permits less messy sex during menstruation.

  • In the process of learning how to use the cervical cap, a woman learns a lot about her own anatomy.

Disadvantages:

  • The cervical cap must be fitted by a clinician.

  • You should wash your hands with soap and water before putting the cap in.

  • Insertion of the cap may interrupt sex.

  • You have to take the cap with you on vacations or trips.

  • Using the cap increases your risk for inflammation of the surface of the cervix.

  • It is difficult for some women to insert a cervical cap properly.

  • If left in for too long, the cap slightly increases your risk for a very serious infection called toxic shock syndrome. Don't leave your cap in for more than 48 hours.

  • It is possible for the cap to be placed onto the cervix improperly, or to slip out of place during sex.

  • After putting the cap in, you have to check to be sure it is covering the cervix.

  • A new fitting may be necessary after having a baby, miscarriage, an abortion, or gaining 15 pounds.

  • Latex (rubber) may cause irritation or you may be allergic to it.

  • It is advised that you replace your cap each year.

Where do I get a cervical cap?
Some clinicians, health departments, and family planning clinics can fit you for a cervical cap.

What if I have sex and don't use birth control?
For 72 hours AFTER unprotected sex, you can take emergency contraceptive pills to avoid becoming pregnant. For up to 7 days AFTER unprotected sex, you can have an IUD put in. Not all clinicians know about emergency contraception. If you want more information or would like the phone numbers of clinicians near you who prescribe emergency contraception, CALL the toll-free hotline 1-888-NOT-2-LATE or 1-800-584-9911. Some of these sources of help are free.

These materials were written by Robert A. Hatcher, MD, MPH, Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Emory University School of Medicine.

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