What's a cervical cap?
A cervical cap is the modern version of an ancient contraceptive technique. Through the centuries, women have used everything from beeswax to orange halves to keep sperm from entering the cervix. Today's cervical cap is more sophisticated -- a thimble-sized rubber cap with a firm, rounded rim that sits on top of your cervix and covers the opening. Some women find a cap harder to insert than a diaphragm, and it can be knocked out of place more easily during sex. It won't protect you against sexually transmitted disease. Planned Parenthood rates the cervical cap as 86 percent effective in women who have never given birth. They rate it at 71 percent effective in women who have previously given birth
Where do I get one?
You'll need to visit your gynecologist or a family-planning clinic to have your cervix examined and measured. (About 15 percent of women have unusually shaped cervixes that aren't suited to a cap.) You can usually buy a cervical cap right there at the office; it comes in one of four sizes and costs between $15 and $75. Your doctor or clinician can show you how to insert it.
How do I use it?
You can insert the cap up to 24 hours before intercourse. First empty your bladder and wash your hands with soap and water. Examine your cap for holes or thin places by holding it up to the light and stretching the latex or by filling it with water and checking for leaks. (Don't use it if you find any!) Now fill the cap one-third full with contraceptive cream or jelly (too much and it may not adhere properly to the cervix). Pinch the rim together between the thumb and index finger of one hand and push the cap up into your vagina as far as you can. Use your index and middle finger to position it over your cervix, then push on the dome to create suction between the cervix and the cap. Run your finger around the rim to check that your cervix is covered, and wiggle the cap with your fingers to make sure it can't be dislodged easily.
After sex, leave the cap in place for at least 6 hours (but no longer than 48), so that the spermicide will have a chance to kill any sperm that may still be alive. Don't douche while the cap is in, since that may dislodge it. Remove it by pushing it to one side with your finger, then hooking your finger over the rim and pulling down sharply to release the suction. Turn the cap inside out and wash it thoroughly with warm water and mild soap. Rinse and dry it carefully, let it dry, and store it in its case, away from heat.
When is a cervical cap not the right choice?
If you feel burning or itching in your vagina after using a cap, you may be allergic to latex or sensitive to spermicides and might need to switch to another form of birth control. Some women have more vaginal or bladder infections when they use a cap. Don't use one if you have a gynecological infection or if you've had toxic shock syndrome or a recent abnormal Pap-smear reading. And don't use a cap during your period; your menstrual flow can disrupt the suction.
How long will my cap last?
If you care for it properly, your cap will last about one to two years. Replace it whenever you find holes, tears, or thin spots in the latex. You'll need to be refitted with a larger size after childbirth.
"Diaphragms, Cervical Caps and Shields," Planned Parenthood Federation of America, updated 2005
The Self-Care Advisor. The Health Publishing Group 1996.
Planned Parenthood. Diaphrams and Cervical Caps.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Barrier Methods of Contraception. July 2008.