Definition and Overview

A cervical cap, also called a cervical cover, is a form of barrier contraceptive that prevents pregnancy by blocking the sperm's pathway to the cervix. Made of soft silicone or latex, it is highly effective, generally safe, and very convenient to use.

The effectiveness of cervical caps stands at around 92%. Some manufacturers claim that if the device is inserted properly and used as intended all the time, its effectiveness can increase to around 98%.

Some of the factors that can reduce the effectiveness of a cervical cap are:

  • Previous normal childbirth – As the size of the cervix tends to increase after childbirth, there is a possibility that the cervical cap may not be able to cover the entire entrance or may shift to one side leaving an opening.
  • Removing the cervical cap too soon – The cervical cap should remain inside the vagina for at least six hours after sexual intercourse. Removing the device too soon can allow sperm inside the vagina to find its way into the cervix.

Who should undergo and expected results

Inserting a cervical cap is generally straightforward. Most women would be able to do it themselves without any help. However, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional before using one for the first time.

Doctors discourage the use of a cervical cap if the woman is:

  • Highly sexually active (engages in sex more than three times a week)
  • High pregnancy risk (under age 30)
  • Other barrier contraceptives have not worked on them before
  • Have recently had an abortion, miscarriage, or normal delivery
  • Currently has vaginal problems, including vaginal bleeding, infections, or pelvic injury
  • Allergic to latex, silicone, or spermicide
  • Has AIDS/HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases


Cervical caps have a high rate of effectiveness, but this relies heavily on its proper use. Most devices are available with detailed instructions on the use of the device and what to avoid to ensure its effectiveness. Such instructions may differ according to the manufacturer of the device, but they generally include proper placement and removal.

Some manufacturers require the cervical cap be inserted before sexual intercourse, or even before sexual arousal. Other manufacturers recommend that the device be inserted at least 6 hours before intercourse.

It's important to understand that the cervical cap needs to be inserted deep inside the vagina for it to be effective. If a woman isn't comfortable inserting the device using a finger, then this type of barrier contraception may not be advisable.

The device should remain inside the vagina at least 6 hours after sexual intercourse, but not exceeding 48-72 hours. Leaving the cervical cap inside the vagina longer than the manufacturer's recommendations places a woman at risk of toxic shock syndrome.

How the procedure works

One of the advantages of consulting a healthcare provider before using a cervical cap for the first time is that the doctor can demonstrate the correct method of inserting the device to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

It would be best for women to have a health care professional assess their health to ensure that a cervical cap is their best option. As long as a woman doesn't have an allergy to the materials used in a cervical cap, or have health concerns, such as a vaginal infection, then it is likely that such a contraceptive device would be a good option.

Prior to inserting a cervical cap, the hands should be washed thoroughly to prevent harmful bacteria from entering the vagina. Spermicide should also be applied to the edges of the cap. Using a finger, the cervical cap is inserted all the way to the cervix where it will cover the entrance through suction. Manufacturers claim that effectiveness increases if the cervical cap is inserted prior to sexual arousal.

Once inserted, the cap can remain inside the vagina for up to 72 hours depending on the recommendations of the manufacturer. If removed from the vagina, the cervical cap can be washed clean and stored inside its case for future use.

Possible risks and complications

Safety is always an important issue when it comes to using contraceptives. Aside from the risks presented by unsafe practices, there are also risks presented by incorrect expectations. For instance, it would be wrong to assume that a cervical cap would provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases or infections, because it doesn't. A cervical cap functions only as a contraceptive.

The risk of the device failing to provide adequate protection against pregnancy also increases with incorrect or inconsistent use. There have been cases where the cervical cap was dislodged during intercourse. These cases could be due to incorrect placement of the device, which is why it is important to learn the correct methods of cervical cap insertion from a healthcare professional before deciding to use such contraceptives.

Reference:

  • Gilbirds, W., and Jonas, H. (1982, April.) The cervical cap: An alternate barrier contraceptive method. Missouri Medicine, 79(4);216-218. from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7099129
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