Accessibility Tools

What are Barrier Methods of Birth Control?

Barrier Methods of Birth Control pic

Barrier methods of birth control are non-surgical methods to prevent pregnancy. They are called “barrier methods” as each uses a physical barrier to prevent sperm from reaching the egg. This prevents fertilization and the likelihood of a pregnancy. Some barrier methods also provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Barrier methods of birth control are for short-term use only. They are to be used at or around the time a couple plans to have sexual intercourse.

Common barrier birth control methods include:

  • Condoms for men and women
  • Spermicidal agents
  • Contraceptive sponge
  • Diaphragm
  • Cervical cap

After intercourse, barrier devices such as condoms or sponges should be discarded. Other types, such as diaphragms and cervical caps can be washed and reused.


These are thin latex covers for men and women. However, the male condom is more commonly used due to its ease of wearing. The male condom covers the penis, while the female condom is inserted into the vagina until it reaches the mouth of the cervix to prevent semen from entering the uterus. When the male ejaculates in the female, the semen is collected into the female condom, which is then carefully removed and discarded. Condoms are a one-time use product only and should not be washed or re-used.

Spermicidal Agents

Spermicidal agents or spermicides, kill sperm or render them dysfunctional on contact. They are available as creams, gels, foams, suppositories, and films. Spermicidal agents are used either alone by applying or inserting them into the vagina to kill the sperm before it enters the uterus, or can be used in combination with another barrier device such as a cervical cap for increased effectiveness.

Contraceptive Sponge

A contraceptive sponge, also called a spermicide sponge, is a soft sponge made of polyurethane. It comes with a built-in spermicide and needs to be placed deep inside your vagina, near the cervix, before sexual intercourse. This blocks the entry of sperm into the uterus to prevent pregnancy.


The diaphragm is a dome-shaped sheath made of latex or silicone that has been previously treated with a spermicidal agent. It is inserted deep into the vagina near the cervix. It prevents pregnancy by blocking the entry of sperm into the uterus. It needs to be left in place for at least 6 hours after intercourse to ensure effectiveness.

Cervical Cap

The cervical cap is a reusable dome-shaped silicone cup. It is inserted into the vagina and placed over the cervix to block sperm from entering the uterus. It should be used with a spermicide to be effective. After intercourse, it should be left in place for 6 to 48 hours. To remove it, you may squat and gently pull it outwards with the help of the removal strap.

What are the Advantages of Barrier Methods of Birth Control?

Barrier methods of birth control have many advantages. These include:

  • Protection against unwanted pregnancy
  • Their effect can be reversed by removing or discontinuing their use
  • They do not have the side effects of a hormonal contraceptive
  • No adverse effect on a woman's or man's fertility
  • Easy to use
  • Not costly
  • Safe, even when a woman is breastfeeding
  • May also help protect against sexually transmitted diseases and infections

  • Allen OB GYN
  • Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital
  • The American College of Obstericians and Gynecologist
  • American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology