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About 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 person remembers to use it correctly every time.

In order for the cap to work, it also needs to be cared for appropriately. After each use, the cap must be washed with mild soap and water, rinsed, and air dried, then stored in its case. Baby powder and oil-based lubricants (such as mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or baby oil) should not be put on the cap. Other vaginal creams, such as medicines for yeast infection, can also 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 people 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 happen if the cervical cap is left in too long.
  • The material in the cervical cap may cause an allergic reaction.
  • Toxic shock syndrome is a rare complication.
  • The cap may lead to changes in the cervix because of irritation.

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 result in 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 nurse practitioner must fit a girl for a cervical cap. The doctor or nurse will find the right size and teach her how to insert and remove the cap.

How Much Does a Cervical Cap Cost?

A cervical cap can cost anywhere 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. In addition, the cost of spermicide is about $0.50 to $1.50 per use.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Someone with a cervical cap should call the doctor if she:

  • might be pregnant
  • has a change in the smell or color of vaginal discharge
  • has unexplained fever or chills
  • has belly or pelvic pain
  • has pain during sex
  • has 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