Kiska (ifritah) wrote in sexuality101,

Part Two: Barrier Methods.

As mentioned in a previous post, there are four basic types of birth control methods. Right now, I'm going to talk about barrier methods.

Ready? Okay, good.

Male Condoms (a sheath that fits over the penis) are most often made out of latex, but there have been other materials used as well. Animal skin (particularly lambskin) was a popular method before the 19th century, but is used by some still today. (However, animal skin condoms do not protect against sexually transmitted infections.) Another material discovered for condom use was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1997 - Polyurethane (a type of plastic).

The Advantages:

* The male condom is the #1 leader of birth control for preventing sexually transmitted infections (excluding abstinence, of course)
* May help a man control ejaculation (due to reduced sensitivity)
* Can be purchased without need of a doctor's visit


* Has one of the highest user-error rates due to not understanding how to properly use and/or store the condoms
* Reduces penile sensitivity
* Requires putting on just before sexual/anal intercourse and oral sex
* Some people are allergic to latex

How to Store It:

* Store in room temperature, out of direct sunlight (if in wallet or glove compartment for longer than 24 hours, discard). Latex will break down and become brittle from temperature changes, rough handling, and age. If the condom becomes damaged, discolored, sticky, or brittle, discard.
* Condoms have an expiration date. Check before using.

How to Use it:

* Use a new condom every time having sexual/anal intercourse or oral sex. (Note: Using more than one condom at once, referred to as "double-bagging", does not increase chances of preventing pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In fact, it will decrease chances due to creating holes in the latex due to the materials rubbing together.)
* Only use water-based lubricants with condoms. (And ALWAYS use lubricant when having anal intercourse to decrease chances of anal tearing)
* This website gives a very good description (with pictures), step-by-step, of the condom-wearing process. (Note: Although the picture shows a scenario with heterosexual sex, these steps should be used for both sexual and anal intercourse.)

An Important Note:

Most books and websites (the above site included) neglect to mention a very important step when it comes to using the male condom. When a man is about to ejaculate, he needs to hold onto the condom at the base of the penis before doing so. BEFORE he ejaculates. Ejaculate travels up to 30 mph. If the condom is not held in place during ejaculation, the condom may dislodge from the penis and fall deep inside the vagina. (Not a treasure-hunt I would recommend as a good time.)

Effectiveness of preventing pregnancy: If used perfectly - 97%. Reported use - 86%, due to user error.

The female condom is a loose-fitting sheath made of polyerethane (a type of plastic) with a ring on each end. The closed end fits inside the vagina, over the cervix, while the open end sits outside of the vagina, partially covering the vulva. When purchased, it comes with lubriant that should be placed inside the female condom (for comfortability, a small bit of water-based lubricant can be applied to the outside of the female condom). Unlike the male condom, the female condom can be inserted up to eight hours before intercourse.

Note: The female condom and male condom should not be used for the same sexual act. As mentioned above with using two male condoms at once, the materials will rub together and create holes.


* Gives women a sense of control
* Can be inserted hours before the sex act, as to not 'ruin the mood'


* Though created with the idea in mind that the female condom would assist in preventing sexually transmitted infections, no published studies (that I know of) are available that confirm its ability to do so
* Controversy in preliminary studies of the over-all female condom experience
* More expensive than the male condom by up to 75% (average of 25 cents for one male condom versus a dollar per female condom)

How to Use:

The MedlinePlus site has a very good diagram of inserting the female condom here.

Effectiveness: Perfect use - 95%. Reported use - 79%

The diaphragm is a shallow, dome-shaped rubber cup with a flexible rim that folds so that it can be inserted inside the vagina to cover the cervix. The diaphragm is meant to block sperm from getting past it. However, it is intended to be used with spermicide (kills and/or immobilizes sperm on contact).

Note: Do not use oil-based lubricants, as they can deteriorate the rubber.


* Can be kept inside the vagina up to 24 hours
* Only require replacement every two years
* Some studies suggest spermicide may prevent some sexually transmitted infections


* Must remain in place for at least six hours after sexual intercourse
* Spermicide must be added each time having sexual intercourse
* Must be inserted properly, or else sperm can get through barrier
* Must be fitted by a physician or nurse practitioner
* Must be refitted if lose/gain significant amount of weight or after giving birth
* May cause Toxic Shock Syndrome if not removed timely

Effectiveness: Perfect use - 94%. Reported use - 80%

The cervical cap is similar to the diaphragm, but is smaller in size and fits more tightly over the cervix. It can be either rubber, plastic, or metal and holds spermicide (kills and/or immobilizes sperm on contact) inside. (Read first paragraph of diaphragm section for how the barrier works to prevent pregnancy.)


* Can be kept inside the vagina for up to 48 hours
* Some studies suggest spermicide may prevent some sexually transmitted infections
* Spermicide use for additional sexual acts is optional


* Must be taken out for menstruation
* Not all women can use due to the variation of shapes and sizes of women's cervixes (caps are not fitted to each individual woman, instead, there are several size options).
* Must be purchased by a physician or nurse practitioner
* May cause Toxic Shock Syndrome if not removed timely
* Women with abnormal Pap smears or who have cervical cancer are advised against use of the cervical cap due to some studies finding a slightly higher than expected precancerous cervical abnormality in its users
* May occasionally irritate the cervix, cause an unpleasant smell or vaginal dryness, and can possibly dislodge during sex

Effectiveness: Perfect use - 91%. Reported use - 80% (Note: the cap is 20% more effective for nulliparous women - women who have never been pregnant. Thus, for women who have given birth, the reported use goes down to 60%.)
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