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Sexual Development

About the Cervical Cap


Talking to your kids about sex can be daunting, no matter how close you are. But discussing issues like abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and birth control can help lower teens’ risk of an unintended pregnancy or contracting an STD.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports sex education that includes information about both abstinence and birth control. Research has shown that this information doesn’t increase kids’ level of sexual activity, but actually promotes and increases the proper use of birth control methods among sexually active teens.

How and when you discuss sex and birth control is up to you. Providing the facts is vital, but it’s also wise to tell your kids where you stand. Remember, by approaching these issues like any other health topics, not as something dirty or embarrassing, you increase the odds that your kids will feel comfortable coming to you with any questions and problems. As awkward as it might feel, answer questions honestly. And if you don’t know the answers, it’s OK to say so, then find out and report back.

If you have questions about how to talk with your son or daughter about sex, consider consulting your doctor. Lots of parents find this tough to tackle, and a doctor may offer some helpful perspective.

What Is the Cervical Cap?

A cervical cap is a small, thimble-shaped cup made of silicone that fits over the cervix (the part of the uterus that opens into the upper part of the vagina). It is considered one of the barrier methods of birth control because it provides a physical barrier between a male’s sperm and a female’s egg.

How Does the 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 inserted up to 6 hours before having sex and must be left in for at least 6 hours, but no longer than 48 hours. While the cap is in place, its position should be checked and spermicide should be added every time a couple has sex. After sex, it must be left in place for at least 6 hours.

Manufacturer’s instructions should be followed for removing the cap. Removing a cervical cap involves placing a finger in the vagina to pull the cap out. Because the cap has to be placed properly, women who use one should be comfortable feeling for their cervix deep inside the vagina.

After each use, the cap must be washed with mild soap and water, rinsed, and air dried, then stored in its case. It should not be dusted with baby powder and should never be used with oil-based lubricants such as mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or baby oil, which can cause the cap to become brittle and crack. Other vaginal creams, such as medicines for yeast infection, can also damage the cap.

How Well Does the Cervical Cap Work?

Over the course of a year, 14 out of 100 typical couples who rely on the cervical cap to prevent pregnancy 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. Of course, these are average figures and the chance of getting pregnant depends on whether the cervical cap is used correctly every time the couple has sex.

In general, how well each type of birth control method works depends on a lot of things. These include whether a person has any health conditions or is taking medications that might interfere with its use. It also depends on whether the method chosen is convenient — and whether the person remembers to use it correctly every time.

Protection Against STDs

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.

Possible Side Effects

Most females who use the cervical cap have no problems, but possible side effects may include:

  • Spermicides may irritate the vagina and surrounding skin or cause an allergic reaction.
  • Strong odors, vaginal discharge, or infection may occur if the cervical cap is left in too long.
  • The material in the cervical cap may cause an allergic reaction.
  • Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare complication.

  • The cap may lead to changes in the cervix because of irritation.

Who Uses the Cervical Cap?

The cervical cap is not usually recommended for most young women and teens since it can be very difficult to insert correctly. Inserting a cervical cap requires a girl to reach all the way to the cervix with her fingers. It can sometimes also be knocked out of place during intercourse, which can result in pregnancy. The cervical cap cannot be used when a girl has her period.

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

Where Is the Cervical Cap Available?

A doctor must fit a girl for a cervical cap. During a pelvic exam, the doctor will determine which size cap is right for her. The doctor or nurse will then teach her how to insert and remove the cap.

How Much Does the Cervical Cap Cost?

A cervical cap costs about $70 and should be replaced every year. In addition, there is also the cost of the doctor’s visit. Many health insurance plans cover these costs, and family planning clinics (such as Planned Parenthood) may charge less. In addition, the cost of spermicide is about $0.50 to $1.50 per use.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013