So you’ve heard of a diaphragm before, but really, what is a diaphragm? Quite simply, it’s a dome-shaped silicone contraceptive.

The diaphragm is placed inside the vagina and covers the cervix. Typically between 60 and 90 mm in size, it is flexible and has a rim to ease the insertion and removal process. It is also latex free, which makes it a viable option for women with latex allergies. 

Diaphragm birth control is a very effective form of contraception because it forms an actual physical barrier that prevents sperm from ever reaching an egg. It is also always used with spermicide, which paralyzes the sperm.


Don’t skip a step!

You need to use the diaphragm contraceptive every time you have sexual intercourse, in order for it to be effective. You will have to go through a doctor to get your diaphragm, and they will give you detailed instructions and demonstrate how to use it. However, here are the basic steps for using, removing, and storing your diaphragm birth control:

  1. First, give the diaphragm a coat of spermicidal cream or gel. Use about a tablespoon, covering the inside and the rim.
  2. You can insert the diaphragm just before intercourse, or up to 2 hours before.
  3. For your own comfort, you will probably want to empty your bladder before putting in your diaphragm.
  4. Be sure to wash your hands and the diaphragm with warm water and unscented, mild soap before each use. Then dry it completely with a clean hand towel or cloth.
  5. To insert it, you bend it—almost like a taco—and gently push it deep into your vagina. You must check every time that it is fully covering your cervix and that the rim is behind your pubic bone.
  6. If you need additional lubrication, either for insertion or during intercourse, only use a lubricant that is designed for vaginal use. Don’t use any products that are oil-based because they can deteriorate the materials that the diaphragm is made out of, making it less effective.
  7. After having intercourse, do not remove the diaphragm for 6 hours. This is necessary for the spermicide to fully prevent any sperm from reaching your cervix. If you have intercourse multiple times, you should insert additional spermicide into your vagina each time, and then keep the diaphragm in place for 6 hours after the last time.
  8. Never leave your diaphragm in for more than 24 hours, as this can lead to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). Doctors say that it is best to take it out within 12 hours of having intercourse.
  9. Always wash your hands before taking it out, and then wash and dry the diaphragm thoroughly before putting it in its case.
  10. Keep it in its case at all times, except when it is in use, and store it in a cool, dry place far away from direct sunlight.
  11. You cannot use the diaphragm during your menstrual period.


You will need to get a new diaphragm at least every 2 years, but you should replace it sooner than that if you have any major physical changes including pregnancy or weight loss/gain of over 10 pounds. You should also keep a close eye out for any discoloration, change of shape, tears, or other damage and get a new one right away if you see anything unusual.


The good and the bad

As with all contraception methods, the diaphragm has several advantages, but also many disadvantages. When thinking about which method to choose, you should weigh these factors carefully. Take a look at some of the pros and cons of diaphragm contraception.

First, the diaphragm is very portable. You can easily keep it in a purse, or even your pocket. It also works immediately, unlike oral contraception, and it doesn’t make any changes to your body’s hormones. The moment you want a contraception option, you insert it; and the moment you want to try to get pregnant, you stop using it. You can also use it even when you’re breastfeeding, which isn’t true of hormonal birth control methods. Furthermore, there is no contraceptive pill to remember every day, and you don’t have to waste time and money with frequent visits to the doctor. Finally, many people say that this is a pleasurable method because it can’t be felt during sex and it can be inserted earlier, leaving you free to have fun without “hitting the pause button.”

With all that in mind, there are some downsides to consider. First, the diaphragm isn’t as effective as a condom—around 6% of women who use it correctly will become pregnant. However, it is also much easier to misuse because of all the steps involved. Considering typical use, around 12% of women become pregnant while using the diaphragm. Furthermore, there is the risk of TSS, and the increased likelihood of getting a urinary tract infection. It also doesn’t protect against STIs or HIV. You also have to keep a close eye on the device and replace it if you notice any changes.


Getting a diaphragm

Because the diaphragm contraceptive requires a doctor’s visit, it can be a bit pricy, depending on where you live and what kind of health care you have. Fortunately, most birth control in the UK is completely free, so you can just talk to your GP or go to a contraception community clinic or a sexual health clinic. 


With everything that you now know about the diaphragm, you can weigh the pros and cons and consider how this birth control method might fit in with your lifestyle and family planning goals. If you are searching for additional non-hormonal methods, you can turn to methods like the IUD. With all of these options, you can surely find one that works for you!