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Types of Barrier Method Contraception

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Angeli Del Rosario · Updated May 12, 2022

    Types of Barrier Method Contraception

    The barrier method prevents possible pregnancy by blocking sperm. Many barrier method contraceptives are available for purchase in drug stores, but some of them require a prescription from a doctor. While they can be effective when used properly, many of these barrier methods cannot protect the user against sexually transmitted infections or STIs.

    Advantages of Using the Barrier Method

    Certain barrier method contraceptives may lower the risk of cervical cancer caused by some STIs. Not only that, but the barrier method has many more pros, a few of which include the following:

    • Does not affect long-term fertility
    • Does not alter one’s normal hormonal levels
    • Can be used only during intercourse
    • Safe for breastfeeding women
    • Does not have adverse effects like nausea or dizziness
    • More cost-effective than hormonal contraceptives like pills

    Disadvantages of Using the Barrier Method

    One of the cons of using barrier method contraception is the relatively higher failure rates of preventing pregnancy compared to other types of birth control as these are physical/mechanical in nature. Some disadvantages of the barrier method include the following:

    • Potential allergies to spermicide
    • Potential allergies to latex condoms
    • Might be embarrassing to use for partners

    Types of Barrier Method Contraception

    External Condoms

    The external condom, also known as the male condom, is a stretchable, latex or rubber material that is worn on the penis. It is made to catch and trap semen, preventing it from entering the vagina. External condoms are one of the most effective barrier methods that prevent pregnancy and even protect the user from getting STIs.

    Male condoms can be made out of either latex or non-latex components. These other materials include:

    • Lambskin
    • Polyurethane plastic
    • Rubber

    The variety of options allows even those with latex allergies to use them. Polyurethane condoms can also be purchased for people with rubber allergies. Almost all latex and non-latex male condoms can be bought at any drug store and in selected supermarkets.

    In order to ensure its efficacy, check first its expiry date in order to see if the latex or rubber material can hold before putting it on properly. 

    Internal Condoms

    The barrier method is not limited only to male condoms. Female condoms are made out of polyurethane plastic that is put into the vagina before intercourse. Like its external counterpart, the female condom can also effectively prevent pregnancy and STIs when used properly. Many of them can be bought online or in clinics without the need for a prescription.


    The diaphragm is a reusable type barrier method contraceptive shaped like a dome. It is worn with spermicide inside the vagina to prevent sperm from entering. The diaphragm is required to be worn at least 6 hours after intercourse or else the sperm may linger and then enter the vagina.

    In order to obtain a diaphragm, you must get a prescription from a healthcare professional. At times, it can also be bought in specific health centers.

    Cervical Cap

    Like the diaphragm, the cervical cap is a reusable contraceptive inserted into the vagina to block sperm. It must be used with spermicide in order to be effective. After use, it must remain in the vagina for at least 6 hours to avoid accidental pregnancy.

    Cervical caps can be reused up to a year after their first use when taken care of. They are available in most drug stores or in health centers with a doctor’s prescription. 

    The Sponge

    This barrier method contraceptive is made out of sponge-like foam material that has spermicide. Like the diaphragm and the cervical cap, it is inserted into the vagina prior to intercourse. Although it is limited in terms of availability, you may have a chance to obtain them online in trusted stores.

    The Importance of Spermicide in the Barrier Method

    Spermicide is the chemical that helps stop sperm by decreasing its movement or motility. It does not kill the sperm. It is often used in tandem with barrier methods like the diaphragm, cervical cap, and the sponge.

    There are a variety of spermicide options available, including:

    • Foam
    • Cream
    • Gel
    • Tablets
    • Suppository

    Depending on the spermicide you use, how you insert them or apply them in tandem with other different contraceptives will differ. The foam, cream, and gel options can be inserted using an applicator while the rest can be inserted directly into the vagina using a finger.

    A risk of using spermicide may be allergies to nonoxynol-9, an ingredient found in most spermicide chemicals. This allergy may cause the penis to develop sores and also ruin the vaginal lining, which may make it more likely to spread STIs and diseases to your partner.

    How To Effectively Use Barrier Method Contraceptives

    When you are at risk of any STI or just want to prevent pregnancy, you may want to consider combining the barrier methods with other birth control options like hormonal pills, patches, implants, and the like.

    Emergency contraception is important if you think that the barrier method used during intercourse was not effective or was misplaced. You should talk to a healthcare provider if ever you need to go through extra steps in order to fully prevent pregnancy.

    Key Takeaways

    The barrier method is a type of contraceptive that prevents the sperm from making direct contact with the vagina. There are many options, both for internal and external use. The barrier method contraceptives can also be used along with other types of birth control like hormonal pills in order to be completely safe. Most options, however, require the use of spermicide to make them effective and some may be less effective when it comes to preventing STIs. 

    Learn more about Contraception here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Angeli Del Rosario · Updated May 12, 2022

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