The cervical cap is a birth control (contraceptive) device that prevents sperm from entering the uterus. The cervical cap is a reusable, deep silicone cup that is inserted into the vagina and fits tightly over the cervix. The cervical cap is held in place by suction and has a strap to help with removal. The cervical cap is effective at preventing pregnancy only when used with spermicide.
Only one cervical cap — FemCap — has Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the U.S. It must be fitted and prescribed by a doctor, but can be purchased online if you have a current prescription.
Why it's done
When used with spermicide, the cervical cap helps prevent pregnancy. Among various benefits, the cervical cap:
- Allows prompt return to fertility
- Can be used while breast-feeding beginning six weeks after delivery
- Can be inserted hours before sex and remain in place for up to 48 hours
- Doesn't require a partner's cooperation
- Poses few if any side effects
The cervical cap isn't appropriate for everyone, however. Your health care provider may discourage use of the cervical cap if you:
- Are allergic to spermicide or silicone
- Are at high risk of or have HIV/AIDS
- Are at high risk of pregnancy — you're younger than age 30; you have sex three or more times a week; you've had previous contraceptive failure with vaginal barrier methods; or you're not likely to consistently use the cervical cap
- Have vaginal or cervical abnormalities that interfere with the fit, placement or retention of the cervical cap
- Have vaginal bleeding or have a vaginal, cervical or pelvic infection
- Have a history of pelvic inflammatory disease, toxic shock syndrome, cervical cancer, third-degree uterine prolapse, uterine tract infections, or vaginal or cervical tissue tears
- Recently gave birth or had a miscarriage or an abortion
- Recently had cervical surgery
The cervical cap doesn't offer protection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
An estimated 16 out of 100 women who've never been pregnant or given birth vaginally will become pregnant during the first year of typical use of the cervical cap. An estimated 32 out of 100 women who've given birth vaginally will become pregnant during the first year of typical use. This difference is due to the fact that the vagina and cervix are stretched by giving birth vaginally, which means the cervical cap may not fit as well.
Inconsistent or incorrect use of the cervical cap increases your risk of pregnancy. For example, you may get pregnant when using the cervical cap if:
- The cervical cap becomes dislodged from the cervix during sex
- You don't use spermicide
- You remove the cervical cap within six hours after having sex
Spermicide applied to the cervical cap may damage the cells lining the vagina, causing:
- Increased risk of contracting STIs
- Urinary tract or vaginal infection
- Vaginal irritation
Contact your health care provider if:
- The cervical cap slips out of place when you walk, sneeze, cough or strain
- You have signs or symptoms of toxic shock syndrome, such as a sudden high fever, diarrhea, dizziness, vomiting, fainting or a rash that looks like sunburn
- You notice blood on the cervical cap after you remove it that isn't related to your period
- You notice a foul odor when the cervical cap is in place or after you remove it
- You or your partner experiences pain during or following use of the cervical cap
- Your partner has abrasions on his penis following use of the cervical cap during sex
How you prepare
The cervical cap comes in different sizes. Your health care provider will fit you for the cervical cap and demonstrate how to insert and remove the cap. He or she may confirm that the cervical cap is in the correct position by doing a pelvic exam.
Make sure you regularly check your cervical cap for wear, holes or discoloration and replace your cervical cap each year. You may need to have your cervical cap refitted after childbirth. Always use the cervical cap with spermicide. Don't wear the cervical cap during any kind of vaginal bleeding, including your period.
Before you use the cervical cap for the first time, practice inserting the cap and checking its placement. Use a backup method of contraception, such as a male condom, the first few times you use the cervical cap.