What is a cervical cap?
A cervical cap is a small silicone or rubber cup you insert into your vagina before sexual intercourse to help prevent pregnancy. It covers your cervix so sperm can’t reach an egg. Suction helps it stay in place. The only cervical cap approved for use in the United States is sold under the brand name FemCap®. It must be fitted and prescribed by your healthcare provider.
What does a cervical cap look like?
Some people describe a cervical cap as a sailor's hat. It has a wide upturned brim with a dome or bowl in the center. It has a strap across the dome to help you remove it after use.
What does a cervical cap do?
Cervical caps are a form of barrier method birth control. They work by preventing sperm from entering your uterus and fertilizing an egg. The cap blocks your cervix, the opening or entrance to your uterus.
Many people add spermicide to the cervical cap to kill any sperm that might get around the cap. Spermicide is a chemical that immobilizes (or kills) sperm. It adds a chemical barrier to the physical barrier formed by the cap for even more protection.
A cervical cap comes in different sizes. Your healthcare provider helps “fit” your cervical cap to ensure it stays in place during sex.
How effective is a cervical cap?
Like all contraception, cervical caps are only effective when used correctly. If you don’t follow the directions or use it every time you have sex, it will increase your chances of becoming pregnant. Additionally, the cap must be fitted tightly across your cervix. If it's not a snug fit, it lowers the device's effectiveness.
A cervical cap is also less effective if you've given birth vaginally. This is because your vagina and cervix are stretched during childbirth, and the cap may not fit as well. The cervical cap is about 86% effective in people who haven’t given birth. It’s about 71% effective in people who have given birth.
Cervical caps aren’t as effective as other birth control options like patches, rings, pills or intrauterine defines (IUDs).
How do I know which cervical cap to use?
Because cervical cups come in different sizes, it’s important to be fitted for your cap by your healthcare provider. Cervical caps come in small, medium or large. Changes in your body can affect which size cervical cap you use. For example, giving birth vaginally or having a miscarriage requires getting refitted for a new size. Remember, cervical caps are only effective when used correctly. An improper fit may result in an accidental pregnancy.
How do I use a cervical cap?
You may need to practice inserting your cervical cap. Ask your healthcare provider to help you insert your cervical cap the first time or follow the instructions on the packaging. Your cervical cap needs to fit tightly and cover your entire cervix.
Before each use, check the cap for holes or other damage that may allow sperm to sneak through the barrier. If your cervical cap is damaged, don’t use it.
You can insert the cervical cap up to six hours before sexual intercourse.
To insert your cervical cap:
- Wash your hands.
- Find your cervix by inserting your finger into your vagina. Your cervix is shaped like a donut and feels like the tip of your nose.
- Apply spermicide to the cervical cap in the dome (or bowl) area and to the flat part of the brim.
- Apple spermicide to the groove between the brim and dome.
- Get into a comfortable position. Most people squat or put one leg up on a chair or counter. Separate the lips of your vulva with one hand. Pick up the cap with your other hand.
- Squeeze the cap and slide it into your vagina with the strap facing down.
- Be sure the cap covers your cervix. You may check the cervical cap’s placement by inserting a finger into your vagina to check its positioning.
How do you remove a cervical cap?
Leave your cervical cap in place for at least six hours after sex. To remove it:
- Squat down or get in a comfortable position.
- Use your fingers to find the strap.
- Push up on the dome to break the suction.
- Pull the cap down and out with your finger hooked in the strap.
Finally, wash your cervical cap with warm water and gentle soap. Let it dry completely and then place it in the container it came in.
How long can you leave a cervical cap in?
You need to leave your cervical cap in place for at least six hours after the last time you had sex. Cervical caps shouldn’t be left in place longer than 48 hours total. If you’re using it with spermicide, you must put a new dose of spermicide in each time you have sex.
How long does a cervical cap last?
A cervical cap can last up to two years. It’s important to clean and store your cervical cap correctly after each use and check it for signs of wear. Some tips for caring for your cervical cap are:
- Wash it with mild soap and warm water only.
- Let it air dry.
- Don’t use anything other than spermicide in your cervical cap. This includes lubricants used during sex.
- Store your cap in a container and away from extreme heat and cold.
- Check your cap for holes or cracks by filling it with water and looking for leaks.
Is a cervical cap painful?
No, cervical caps shouldn't be painful. If your cervical cap causes you pain, you may need a different size or a different form of birth control. Ask your healthcare provider to show you how to properly insert your cervical cap to ensure an improper fit isn't the cause.
What are the benefits of the cervical cap?
Some of the benefits of using a cervical cap are:
- Cervical caps are small, affordable and reusable.
- You may use a cervical cap for repeated sexual intercourse within 48 hours.
- Most partners don’t feel cervical caps when they are in place.
- It's easily reversible, so you can get pregnant right after it's removed.
- Cervical caps are hormone-free.
- It can be inserted six hours before sex so it doesn’t interrupt foreplay.
What are the disadvantages of a cervical cap?
Cervical caps require consistent and proper use every time you have sex. Cervical caps can become dislodged during sex, especially if they aren’t fitted properly. Other disadvantages include:
- It requires a prescription.
- Spermicide can be messy.
- Cervical caps may irritate your vagina.
- You have to remember to remove it after two days (48 hours).
- Cervical caps offer no protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Additionally, your provider needs to refit your cervical cap after:
- Any pregnancy with a vaginal birth.
- Abortion or miscarriage.
- Pelvic surgery.
- Significant weight loss or weight gain.
What are the risks of using a cervical cap?
Using a cervical cap may increase your risk of developing certain medical conditions, including:
- Bladder and urinary tract infections.
- Inflammation of your cervix (cervicitis).
- Toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
It’s important to remove your cervical cap after 48 hours to reduce your risk of developing TSS. You can also develop TSS if you wear a cervical cap during your menstrual period. If you can’t remove your cervical cap, visit your healthcare provider so they can remove it for you.
Complications from using a cervical cap are uncommon, but you should talk to your healthcare provider about the risks of using one.
Who should not use cervical caps?
If you have a history of the following conditions, a cervical cap may not be right for you:
- Certain types of Pap test abnormalities.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
- Reproductive system infections.
- Toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
You also shouldn’t use a cervical cap if:
- Your cervix is irregularly shaped.
- You’ve had surgery on your cervix or vagina.
- You're uncomfortable putting your fingers in your vagina.
- You’re allergic to silicone or spermicide.
- You’re on your menstrual period.
Is a cervical cap or diaphragm better for birth control?
Choosing birth control is a personal choice. Cervical caps and diaphragms are both barrier methods of birth control that work to prevent pregnancy by blocking your cervix. You can use spermicide with both devices for extra protection. Some differences between the two are:
- A diaphragm may be slightly easier to insert and remove.
- Cervical caps are smaller and shaped like a sailor’s cap with a brim. Diaphragms are shaped like a dome or cap and don’t have a brim.
- You can leave a cap in longer than a diaphragm.
Your healthcare provider can help you decide between a cervical cap and a diaphragm based on your preferences.
Where can I buy a cervical cap?
Cervical caps are available through prescription only. You can get one at your local pharmacy or drugstore. Most health insurance plans cover birth control devices, but you’ll need to visit your healthcare provider for a prescription.
When should I call my doctor?
Contact your healthcare provider if you’re using a cervical cap for birth control and experience the following symptoms:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain.
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
- A swollen, itchy or red vulva (external or visible part of your vagina).
- Your vagina is painful, sore or uncomfortable.
You should also contact your provider if you can't remove the cervical cap or it gets stuck (this is rare).
In rare cases, cervical caps can contribute to TSS (toxic shock syndrome). Symptoms of TSS include:
- Diarrhea or vomiting.
- Flu-like symptoms.
- Dizziness and feeling weak.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Cervical caps are a barrier form of birth control that some people use to prevent pregnancy. It works best when used with a spermicide gel or cream. Talk to your healthcare provider if you're interested in using it for contraception. You must get fitted for a cervical cap to ensure it fits tightly across your cervix. Your healthcare provider can help teach you how to insert and remove a cervical cap. Follow the instructions on the packaging and remove it within 48 hours of having sex. Wearing a cervical cap for longer than 48 hours increases your risk of certain medical conditions.
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