Barrier methods are one group of options for contraception. Condoms are the most well-known type of barrier method. This leaflet signposts towards more information about these and the other barrier methods.
What is barrier contraception?
Barrier contraceptives do exactly what the words suggest. They provide a physical barrier between the sperm and the egg. If sperm are prevented from meeting an egg, they cannot start to create a baby.
What types of barrier contraception are there?
There are three broad groups of barrier contraception:
- Condoms (also known as sheaths). These are placed on the man's penis before having sex. This stops the semen entering the woman's vagina. Read about condoms - their pros and cons, how effective they are, where to get them, and how to use them.
- Female condoms. These are put inside the vagina, and form a barrier to the sperm during sex. Read about condoms for women.
- Diaphragms and caps. These are dome-shaped devices which are put right at the top of the vagina before having sex. They are rather more solid than female condoms, with a firmer ring at the edge. Most types come in specific sizes, and you need to see a health professional to determine the right size for you. Read about diaphragms and caps.
Why would I choose barrier contraception?
All types of contraception have pros and cons. You have to weigh up each option and figure out which is best for you personally. The advantages and disadvantages of each type of barrier method are laid out in the specific leaflets linked above. Broadly speaking, barrier methods are not as effective as many other methods, and you have to remember to use them at the time when you are having sex. On the plus side, they have few side-effects or medical risks. Some of the options have the added advantage of protection against sexually transmitted infections and possibly also protect against cancer of the neck of the womb (cervix). See the individual leaflets for details.
Further reading and references
Barrier methods for contraception and STI prevention; Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (August 2012 - updated October 2015)
Contraception - barrier methods and spermicides; NICE CKS, April 2016 (UK access only)
Trussell J; Contraceptive failure in the United States, Contraception, 2011