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What are barrier methods?


Updated December 07, 2003

Barrier methods are contraceptives that prevent the passage of bodily fluids from one person to another. Examples of barrier methods include condoms, cervical caps, diaphragms, sponges, and dental dams. Only dental dams and condoms are recommended agents of HIV transmission prevention.
  • Male Condom:

    The male condom is a sheath placed over the erect penis before penetration, preventing pregnancy by blocking the passage of sperm. Because they act as a mechanical barrier, condoms prevent direct vaginal contact with semen, infectious genital secretions, and genital lesions and discharges. A condom can only be used once! Most condoms are made from latex rubber, while a small percentage are made from lamb intestines (sometimes called "lambskin" condoms). Condoms can also be made from a type of plastic called polyurethane. For people who are sensitive to latex, polyurethane is a good alternative. The condom has many slang names, including "rubber," "wrapper," and "raincoat." Except for abstinence, latex condoms are the most effective method for reducing the risk of infection from viruses that cause AIDS, other HIV-related illnesses, and other STDs.

    Some condoms are prelubricated. These lubricants don't provide more birth control or STD protection. Non-oil-based lubricants, such as water or K-Y jelly, can be used with latex or lambskin condoms, but oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly (Vaseline), lotions, or massage or baby oil, should not be used because they can weaken the material.

  • Female Condom:

    The female condom consists of a lubricated polyurethane sheath shaped similarly to the male condom. The closed end, which has a flexible ring, is inserted into the vagina, while the open end remains outside, partially covering the labia. The female condom, like the male condom, is available without a prescription and is intended for one-time use only. It should not be used together with a male condom because they may slip out of place.

  • Diaphragm:

    A diaphragm is available only by prescription and must be sized by a health professional to achieve a proper fit. It is a dome-shaped rubber disk with a flexible rim that covers the cervix so sperm can't reach the uterus. Before inserting the diaphragm, you must apply a spermicide cream or jelly as an extra precaution. A diaphragm will protect for six hours after it is inserted. For intercourse after the six-hour period, or for repeated intercourse within this period, fresh spermicide should be place in the vagina with the diaphragm still in place. The diaphragm should be left in place for at least six hours after the last intercourse but not for longer than a total of 24 hours because of the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). The diaphragm can be effective when used properly, but has a higher failure rate than oral contraceptives.

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