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The Cervical Cap

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD

What Is a Cervical Cap?

A cervical cap is a small cup made of silicone that fits over the cervix (the part of the uterus that opens into the vagina). It covers the cervix so sperm can't get in and fertilize an egg.

How Does a Cervical Cap Work?

The cervical cap keeps sperm from entering the uterus by covering the cervix. For added protection, spermicide is put into the cap before inserting the cap snugly over the cervix.

The cap can be put in several hours before having sex, and must be left in at least 6 hours after sex. The cap should not stay in longer than 24 hours after sex, or for more than a total of 48 hours. While the cap is in place, its position should be checked and spermicide should be added every time a couple has sex.

How Well Does a Cervical Cap Work?

Over the course of a year, 14 out of 100 typical couples who use a cervical cap will have an accidental pregnancy.

For women who have had a baby, the cervical cap is less effective: about 29 out of 100 of typical couples who use the cervical cap after the woman has had a baby will have an accidental pregnancy.

How well the cervical cap works depends on whether the woman uses it correctly every time.

The cap also needs to be cared for. After each use, the cap must be washed (with mild soap and water), rinsed, and air dried, then stored in its case. Don't put baby powder or oil-based lubricants (such as mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or baby oil)on the cap. Other vaginal creams, such as medicines for yeast infection, also can damage the cap.

Do Cervical Caps Help Prevent STDs?

No. The cervical cap does not protect against STDs. Couples having sex must always use condoms along with the cervical cap to protect against these infections.

Abstinence (not having sex) is the only method that always prevents pregnancy and STDs.

Are There Any Problems With Cervical Caps?

Most girls who use the cervical cap have no problems. But possible side effects may include:

  • from the spermicide, irritation of the vagina and surrounding skin or an allergic reaction
  • strong odors or vaginal discharge if the cap is left in too long
  • an allergic raction to the material in the cap (this is rare)
  • changes in the cervix because of irritation
  • toxic shock syndrome if the cap is left in too long (this is rare)

Who Is a Cervical Cap Right for?

The cervical cap is not usually recommended for most young women and teens because it can be very hard to insert correctly. Inserting and removing a cervical cap requires a girl to reach into her vagina to the cervix with her fingers. It can sometimes also be knocked out of place during intercourse, which can lead to pregnancy. The cervical cap cannot be used when a girl has her period. It is not recommended for those with some medical conditions.

Some girls prefer the diaphragm, which works like the cervical cap but is much easier to use.

Where Are Cervical Caps Available?

A doctor or must fit a girl for a cervical cap. The doctor or NP will find the right size cap and teach her how to insert and remove it.

How Much Does a Cervical Cap Cost?

Costs can range from $0 to about $275 for the cap and the office visit. A cervical cap should be replaced every year.

Many health insurance plans cover these costs, and family planning clinics (such as Planned Parenthood) may charge less. Also, the cost of spermicide is about $0.50 to $1.50 per use.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

If you have a cervical cap, call the doctor if you:

  • might be pregnant
  • have a change in the smell or color of vaginal discharge
  • have unexplained fever or chills
  • have belly or pelvic pain
  • have pain during sex
  • have signs of toxic shock syndrome, such as a sunburn-like rash, achiness, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, or dizziness
Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: May 2018