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Diaphragm for Birth Control - Topic Overview

The diaphragm is a barrier method of birth control. It is a round, dome-shaped device made of rubber that has a firm, flexible rim. It fits inside a woman's vagina and covers the cervix. It should always be used with a sperm-killing cream or jelly (spermicide). There are different types of diaphragms:

  • The flat-spring and coil-spring types can be used with an inserter.
  • The arcing-spring type is easy to insert with the fingers.

A woman inserts her diaphragm no sooner than 6 hours before having sexual intercourse. To be effective, it must be used with a spermicide. The diaphragm must be left in place for 6 hours after intercourse and can be left in place up to 24 hours.

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will provide free women’s preventive services, including mammograms, birth control and well-woman visits. Learn more.

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Prescription method

The type of diaphragm that works best for you will depend on your vaginal muscle tone and the shape of your pelvis. Diaphragms come in different sizes, so you must visit a health professional to be fitted and get a prescription for the right size and type of diaphragm. At this visit, you will be taught how to use and care for the diaphragm. A return visit with the diaphragm already in place is usually needed to be certain that you are using it correctly.

You will need to be refitted for the right size of diaphragm after:

A small weight gain or loss or a therapeutic abortion usually does not require a new diaphragm size.

Replace your diaphragm every 1 to 2 years to avoid an unintended pregnancy. With time and repeated use, small holes can form in the rubber. Rubber can also weaken over time and tear more easily.

Effectiveness in preventing pregnancy

On average, the diaphragm user failure rate is 12%. This means that 12 women out of 100 become pregnant in the first year of typical use. Not using the diaphragm with every act of intercourse is the most common reason for failure. The "perfect use" failure rate is 6%, with a pregnancy in 6 out of 100 women who carefully use the diaphragm every time they have sex.1

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