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Barrier Methods

Barrier contraceptive methods all work by blocking the entrance to the uterus so an egg cannot unite with a sperm. All barrier methods work well if used correctly and consistently, but the user must take the initiative to use the method each time she or he has sex.

Barrier methods are extremely safe for the user, having few or no serious side effects. Two barrier methods that women can wear internally require a prescription to obtain. These are the diaphragm and the cervical cap.

Most other barrier methods are available for purchase without a prescription at a drugstore, grocery store, or health clinic. These include: male condom, female condom, spermicidal foam or film, spermicidal gel or cream.

Advantages of barrier methods include:

  • Nothing enters the bloodstream to affect the whole body or the woman's periods.
  • Barriers need only be used when sexual intercourse occurs; there is no daily "maintenance" routine or schedule.
  • Male and female condoms decrease the risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Psychological effects include positive feelings of not using a medication that affects your entire body; confidence associated with being in personal control of contraceptive use.

Possible disadvantages and side effects include:

  • Barriers are effective only with consistent and correct use; some people have difficulty learning to insert or place the barriers.
  • The diaphragm and cervical cap provide no protection against HIV/AIDS or STDs; spermicides can cause irritation of the skin making the user more likely to get an infection if exposed.
  • Allergic reactions can occur, particularly to latex (in diaphragms, caps, and some types of condoms) or to spermicides.
  • Negative psychological effects such as embarrassment when purchasing barriers, frustration when barriers cause delay of sexual relations, or loss of sexual spontaneity, have been reported.

Possible health risks include:

  • Increased risk of toxic shock syndrome among cervical cap users if the cap is improperly used.
  • Other barrier methods pose no serious health risks.

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