Health benefits, risks and side effects of the diaphragm

The diaphragm is a barrier method of contraception, so it does not use hormones. This makes it good for people who have health risks associated with hormonal methods, or who don’t want to put additional hormones into their body.

The diaphragm is generally a safe form of contraception that most people can try. There are very few risks associated with it. It doesn't interrupt sex or affect your periods, and you can stop using it any time without affecting your fertility. It's also a reusable, relatively environmentally friendly method. But it's not the most effective form of contraception.

Health risks of the diaphragm

Toxic shock syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a very rare but serious problem that’s associated with using tampons. It happens when some types of bacteria grow in the vagina and produce a toxin that’s dangerous to your body. It only affects about 1 in 200,000 people per year.

Toxic shock syndrome has also been associated with using the diaphragm. Again, this is extremely rare and should not stop you from using the diaphragm unless you’ve had toxic shock syndrome in the past.

You can reduce your chance of developing toxic shock syndrome by making sure you:

  • do not keep your diaphragm in for more than 24 hours

  • do not use your diaphragm when you’re on your period, use a different method of contraception

  • clean your diaphragm well after using it

  • use clean hands to insert, remove or handle your diaphragm

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Some older studies suggest that using a diaphragm can double your chance of getting an urinary tract infection. However, these studies would have been looking at the older types of diaphragm and no recent studies have been done. The risk is low for most people, but if you have recurring urinary tract infections this might not be the best method for you.

If you’re experiencing pain or burning when you pee, or you need to pee more often than usual, this could be a sign of a UTI. Speak to your GP or a pharmacist.

Reaction to spermicide

Some people will get a reaction to the spermicide they use with the diaphragm. This could be redness, itching or burning. If this happens to you or your partners, you can try a different brand of spermicide, as they can have different ingredients.

Everything you wanted to know about sexual health and wellbeing - your questions answered by our expert team.