Birth Control: How to Use a Diaphragm


The diaphragm is used to prevent pregnancy. A diaphragm is called a barrier method because it keeps the sperm and eggs apart. It is usually made of silicone and shaped like a dome, and it has a firm, flexible rim. It fits inside your vagina and covers the cervix, which is the opening of the uterus.

You use the diaphragm with a spermicide each time you have vaginal sex. The diaphragm will last for 1 to 2 years.

You need a prescription from your doctor for a diaphragm. Depending on the type of diaphragm, you may need to be fitted for the right size by your doctor. Your doctor may ask you to come back to make sure you know how to place the diaphragm and use it correctly.

How do you use the diaphragm?

  • Insert the diaphragm each time you have intercourse. Read the instructions for how to insert the diaphragm. It must be done correctly to protect against pregnancy. In general:
    • Apply spermicide (contraceptive jelly) to the diaphragm according to the directions.
    • Insert the diaphragm all the way into your vagina. Be sure it is covering the cervix.
    • Remove the diaphragm by hooking the front rim with your finger and pulling it out.
  • You can insert the diaphragm up to 6 hours before you have intercourse. In most cases, neither you nor your partner will feel the diaphragm during intercourse. If you do feel it, check to make sure it is in position.
  • Leave the diaphragm in place for 6 to 8 hours after intercourse. Do not leave it in for longer than 24 hours.
  • If you have sex more than one time when the diaphragm is in place, apply more spermicide.
  • Avoid using any petroleum-based vaginal creams, oils, or ointments, which can damage the rubber. But water-based personal lubricants, such as Astroglide and K-Y Jelly, are safe to use.

What if you think the diaphragm is not placed correctly or not protecting you from pregnancy?

  • Always read the instructions.
  • Call your doctor and use backup birth control, such as a condom, or don't have intercourse until you know the diaphragm is working.
  • If you had intercourse, you can get emergency contraception to help prevent pregnancy. The most effective emergency contraception is an IUD (inserted by a doctor). You can also get emergency contraceptive pills. You can get them with a prescription from your doctor or without a prescription at most drugstores.

What else do you need to know?

  • Spermicide used with the diaphragm may cause an allergic reaction. It can cause itching or sores in the vagina or on the penis.
  • Don't use the diaphragm during your period. Use another method, such as a condom, or don't have intercourse.
  • Check the diaphragm often. Get a new diaphragm if you see holes, tears, or discoloration.
  • If you gain or lose a lot of weight, have abdominal surgery, or have a baby, talk to your doctor to see if you need a different size.
  • Wash the diaphragm with warm water and hand soap after removing it. Thoroughly dry it and store it in its container. Do not use talcum or baby powder on the diaphragm because these products may break down the rubber or irritate the vagina.
  • The diaphragm doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes or HIV/AIDS. If you're not sure whether your sex partner might have an STI, use a condom to protect against infection. Using a condom with the diaphragm also protects better against pregnancy.


Current as of: November 27, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
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