A diaphragm is a latex or silicone disc with a spring molded into the edge. It is inserted into the woman, and covers her cervix so that sperm will be unable to reach the egg. The device was invented in the 1800s, and had been a common form of contraception prior to the invention of the birth control pill. Now, less than one percent of American women use it.
When used perfectly and with spermicides, it has a 94 percent annual effectiveness rate. But under typical conditions (also with spermicides), it has an annual failure rate of 16 percent, or higher.
The diaphragm may cause a local skin irritation, urinary tract infection (including painful urination or blood in the urine), and an overgrowth of bacteria that can lead to a life-threatening infection of the bloodstream called toxic shock syndrome. Although toxic shock syndrome is rare, diaphragm manufacturers alert women of the potential risk: “Primary symptoms of TSS are sudden high fever (usually 102° or more), and vomiting, diarrhea, fainting or near fainting when standing up, dizziness or a rash that looks like a sunburn. There may also be other signs of TSS such as aching of muscles and joints, redness of the eyes, sore throat and weakness.”
Since the device blocks the sperm from entering the uterus, the woman is also deprived of its beneficial effects. For example, a man’s seminal fluid includes at least two dozen ingredients, including estrogens, follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, testosterone, transforming growth factor beta, and several different prostaglandins. During intercourse the female’s body absorbs these, and they aid the health of the woman.
Furthermore, when a man and woman have intercourse, the woman’s body becomes accustomed to the man’s sperm. In medical terms, her immune system develops a gradual tolerance to the antigens on his specific type of sperm and seminal fluid. For several hours after intercourse, a woman’s immune cells will collect and transfer a man’s foreign proteins and entire sperm cells from her cervix to her lymph nodes, where her immune system learns to recognize his genes.
However, if the couple decides to use a barrier method of birth control for an extended period of time before having children, the womb will not be accustomed to the sperm, and the woman’s immune system may treat them as foreign bodies. This can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones and cause the woman’s blood vessels to constrict, leading to higher blood pressure in the expectant mother. This condition (preeclampsia) occurs in about 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies and can lead to premature delivery of the baby. Unfortunately, pre-term babies are more likely to experience learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, blindness, and deafness. Preeclampsia can also be dangerous for the mother: it is the third leading cause of maternal death during childbirth.
It has been demonstrated that a man’s semen offers a protective effect against preeclampsia, because it makes the woman’s immune system more likely to recognize his baby. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, preeclampsia is more than twice as common in women who used barrier methods of contraception. So in a certain sense, couples who use the diaphragm are having “unprotected” sexual intercourse, because the man is not protecting the woman’s body with the beneficial effects of his semen.
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[3}. Ortho All-Flex Diaphragm Fitting Set, Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc., August 2006.
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