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Understanding 4 Types of Barrier Birth Control Methods

Obstetrics & Gynecology located in Amarillo, TX

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Barrier contraception prevents pregnancy by physically blocking sperm from entering your uterus. In some cases, it also prevents the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Learn about four common barrier methods here.

Nearly all women use contraception at some point in their lives. And many women rely on birth control throughout their reproductive years to prevent unintended pregnancy. If you’re sexually active but don’t want to become a parent just yet (or ever), birth control can help you stay in charge of your family planning desires. 

Given that there are five general categories of contraception (and within those categories nearly 20 specific birth control methods), it can be hard to make sense of your choices and find the option that’s just right for you. 

Here at Panhandle Obstetrics and Gynecology in Amarillo, Texas, our team of women’s wellness experts knows that you can’t make an informed choice about contraception unless you understand your options. Here, we take a closer look at four types of barrier birth control. 

What is barrier birth control?

As the name implies, barrier contraception is a form of birth control that prevents pregnancy by physically blocking sperm from reaching an egg in your uterus. The barrier birth control category is notable for having the only birth control method — an external condom — that also offers strong protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). 

Some barrier methods already contain spermicide, a chemical that kills sperm. Barrier methods that don’t come with spermicide should be used with a separate spermicide product to increase their effectiveness. 

Barrier contraception methods

The four most common barrier contraceptive methods are:


Condoms are thin protective sheaths that cover the penis to prevent sperm from reaching your uterus. Latex condoms offer the most protection against STDs like HIV, HPV, gonorrhea, and syphilis; condoms made from synthetic materials like polyurethane also provide protection, but they’re thinner and more likely to tear.  

External condoms are placed on the penis just before intercourse, while internal condoms can be inserted into your vagina or anus up to 8 hours before intercourse. Internal condoms can also offer some protection against STDs, but not as much as external condoms. Both are single-use devices that should be discarded after sex. 

Condoms may come with or without spermicide. Internal condoms are lubricated for easy insertion; when using lubricant with external condoms, avoid oil-based products that can wear down the material and lead to breakage. 


The sponge is a round contraceptive device made of soft foam that contains spermicide. When properly inserted into your vagina, it covers your cervix and keeps sperm out of your uterus. The sponge doesn’t offer any protection against STDs and should be discarded after one use. 

You must wet the sponge before insertion to activate the spermicide. You can insert it up to 24 hours before sex and should keep it in place for at least 6 hours after intercourse. While you shouldn’t wear it for longer than 30 hours, you can have intercourse multiple times within this timeframe without replacing it. 


A diaphragm is a small, dome-shaped device that fits inside your vagina and covers your cervix. Made of silicone or latex, diaphragms are only available by prescription and must be used with spermicide to be fully effective. This device doesn’t protect against STDs.

There are two basic types of diaphragms — a one-size diaphragm, which fits most women, and an individually sized diaphragm, which must be fitted by a health care provider. Certain factors, like childbirth and weight gain, may require you to have a diaphragm refitted. 

Before inserting a diaphragm, apply spermicide around the rim and the inside of the dome. It should remain in place for at least 6 hours after sex, but no more than 24 hours total. Wash the device and store it in its case between each use; a diaphragm can last anywhere from 2-5 years. 

Cervical caps 

A cervical cap is a small plastic dome that fits snugly over your cervix and stays in place by suction. It comes in three sizes and must be prescribed and fitted by a health care provider. Like diaphragms, cervical caps should be used with a spermicide for maximum effectiveness. 

A cervical cap can be worn for up to 48 hours and should remain in place for at least 6 hours following sex. Wash the device and store it in its case between each use; cervical caps should be replaced every year (or sooner if they become damaged). 

Is barrier birth control effective?

Barrier methods aren’t as effective at preventing pregnancy compared to other options like intrauterine devices (IUDs), birth control implants, patches, injections, the vaginal ring, or oral contraceptives.

Out of every 100 women who use barrier birth control each year, 18-28 become pregnant. If a barrier method breaks or becomes dislodged during sex, emergency contraception can help prevent pregnancy. 

Simply put, barrier birth control works best when it’s used correctly and consistently. It’s worth noting that during the first year of external condom use, the chance of pregnancy is about 2% with perfect use. However, with typical use — or the way most people use them — the risk of pregnancy is closer to 18%

If you have questions about contraception, we have answers. Call 806-359-5468 today to schedule your visit at Panhandle Obstetrics and Gynecology.