How to Use the Diaphragm for Effective Birth Control

February 8, 2011

The diaphragm prevents pregnancy by acting as a barrier, blocking the uterus opening and preventing sperm from reaching the egg. The diaphragm stays in place due to the vaginal muscles, and is covered with spermicide prior to being inserted to further increase the effectiveness. Diaphragms come in several different designs, as well as a variety of sizes, and it's important you find one that fits your specific body type well. You can choose the flat ring option which is flattened into an oval then inserted. This type of diaphragm can be easier to insert because it comes with an applicator. You could also choose a coil spring diaphragm; when you squeeze it, it flattens into a sort of bent circle. You insert this type of diaphragm with your fingers rather than an applicator.

The idea of blocking the cervix as a means to preventing pregnancy goes back centuries. Some ancient cultures used halves of lemons or even sticky mixtures made from honey or cedar rosin which were meant applied to the opening of the cervix. The present-day diaphragm is designed to stay in place because of the spring which is built into the rim, and was first used in the 1860's under the name "womb veil." Margaret Sanger was in the Netherlands when she saw her first diaphragm, and she introduced it to the U.S. in 1916, by having her husband illegally import large quantities from overseas. In 1925 Sanger's husband used the money he had made through selling the diaphragms in the United States to found the first diaphragm manufacturing company in the United States-Holland Rantos. While the cervical cap was much more widely-used in Europe, the diaphragm nevertheless became a major form of contraception in the United States until the 1960's, when the pill made its appearance. By 1965, a mere 10% of American women were using the diaphragm, and that dismal number has continued to decline through today when less than one percent of women now use diaphragms.

Diaphragms Advantages

The diaphragm can be inserted several hours ahead of time, allowing for more spontaneity in your sex life, and your natural hormones are left unbothered. The effects of a diaphragm are reversible, and fertility is restored immediately once you cease using it. The diaphragm can usually not be felt and there are seldom any serious side effects associated with using it. Some studies have shown that the diaphragm can lower the risk of catching certain STD's, although it is not marketed specifically for this purpose. If you have recently given birth and are currently breastfeeding, a diaphragm may be a particularly good choice to avoid pregnancy. The diaphragm is convenient, in that it can be carried in your purse, and is effective immediately after insertion. Although the diaphragm has been somewhat tenuously linked to preventing precancerous changes in the cervix, this phenomenon has not been scientifically proven.

Disadvantages to Using the Diaphragm

It is possible for diaphragms to be pushed out of place by certain sexual positions, thrusting angles or techniques, so the chance for getting pregnant in such a situation can increase substantially. Using a diaphragm as your primary source of birth control requires prior planning, since it must be in place every time you have sex. Some women find the diaphragm messy, inconvenient, and challenging to insert. Diaphragms may require that you have them refitted from time to time, especially if you have gained or lost a significant amount of weight. Some women report that the spermicide may leak out following intercourse requiring the use of a sanitary napkin, and causing a certain amount of discomfort. You must wait at least six weeks following giving birth to be fitted for a diaphragm, and if you have a history of frequent UTI's, it is advised you find another form of birth control. Additionally, if you've had a prior case of toxic shock syndrome or have had a recent abortion, you should not use a diaphragm.

Effectiveness and Cost

The diaphragm is considered to be 84% effective for "normal" use, while with "perfect" use, the effectiveness goes up to 94%. Your doctor will fit you for your diaphragm, then will provide a prescription for you. The exam will cost from $50-$200, and the price for the diaphragm will average from $25-$45, while spermicidal cream costs under $20.

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