What is a cervical cap?
A cervical cap is thimble-shaped, soft cap with a round rim that fits around a woman's cervix. There are several types of cervical caps in production, but only version currently available in the US is made of silicone. The cervical cap must be fitted by a doctor and purchased by prescription.
Currently, the FemCap (top center) brand of cervial cap is the only brand available in the US that is approved by the FDA. The FemCap is a small, soft, silicone (non-latex) dome, designed to conform to the anatomy of the cervix and the vagina to ensure maximum fit and comfort. The cap includes a brim, a dome, a groove between the dome and the brim, and a removal strap. This particular cap is designed with a groove facing the vagina to store the spermicide and minimize its leakage. The cap requires only a small amount of spermicide, which is good news for women sensitive to these type of chemicals. It is estimated that the FemCap may achieve up to 96-98% success in preventing pregnancy if used perfectly, however more clinical trials are needed.
How do cervical caps work?
The cap is placed inside the vagina to cover the cervix. Suction keeps the cap in place. A cervical cap provides a barrier to block sperm from entering the uterus and prevents fertilization. A cervical cap is used with spermicidal jellies or creams, placed inside the cap, that kill sperm to increase the effectiveness. The spermicide acts by killing and immobilizing the sperm, preventing any stray sperm from fertilizing the egg. The cervical cap must be left in place for at least six hours after last intercourse before removing.
Annual Failure Rate
How effective are cervical caps?
The effectiveness of a cervical cap depends on the brand and fit. Cervical caps come in different sizes to fit different women, and the initial fitting is done in a doctor's office. When you are first fitted for the cap, your doctor will show you how to insert the cap. Older cervical caps have an annual standardized failure rate of 16% for women who have never given birth, and as high as a 36% failure rate for women who have given birth. Giving birth or having an abortion can affect the way a cervical cap fits, making it less effective. This rate may be less of a problem for newer versions of the cap. After a birth or an abortion, a doctor must recheck the fit of the cervical cap.
Side-effects and health risks of cervical caps
Some women may experience allergic reactions to the spermicide used with the cap. A cervical cap can stay in place for 48 hours, but not any longer due to the risk of toxic shock syndrome. Cervical caps are not recommended during menstrual periods or for women who have had toxic shock syndrome because it can increase the chance of recurrence. Some women find the cervical cap difficult to insert or remove, and it can become dislodged during intercourse. Cervical caps are not the best protection against HIV or STDs, but do offer some protection against certain types of reproductive tract infections.
Considerations for Christians about cervical caps
Like condoms, cervical caps are considered artificial contraception, and as such are not permissible for use by Roman Catholics. Most Protestant denominations, however, have no objections to using cervical caps within marriage.
- Cervical Caps: Contraceptive Information Resource (Contracept.org)
- More about Cervical Caps: Epigee Women's Resources (Epigee.org)
- Types of Cervical Caps: Cervical Barrier Advancement Society