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Spermicidal Film Vs. Diaphragm: Which is Better for Contraception?

September 29, 2022
Miranda Obryan

Only 14 in 100 women of childbearing age (15-49) choose the pill as their birth control method. Many women are looking for non-hormonal alternatives like diaphragms and spermicidal films. But, when deciding which method to use as your primary contraceptive, it’s important to consider all the facts. Here, we compare VCF Films and Diaphragms as birth control methods to find out which one comes out on top.

What is VCF Film?

VCF is short for vaginal contraceptive film. Think of it as those Listerine breath strips that melt in your mouth—but instead of giving you fresh breath, VCF melts inside your lady parts to prevent pregnancy. It’s a paper-thin, flexible square of material containing the active ingredient in spermicide (nonoxynol-9). To use it, a woman inserts the square into the vagina prior to sex. Within 15 minutes, it turns into a gel barrier that covers the cervix, standing by to kill sperm.

What is a Diaphragm?

Diaphragms are reusable contraceptive devices made out of latex, silicone, or other soft materials that are prescribed by a doctor for female birth control. A diaphragm acts as a physical barrier, preventing sperm from getting through. They work best when used together with spermicide.

There are two major categories of diaphragms available today. Traditional diaphragms come in multiple sizes and must be fitted by your doctor, while the Caya Contoured Diaphragm is a one-size-fits-most option that does not require an in-person fitting with your doctor.

Related: Diaphragms as a Contraceptive: What’s It Like to Use One?

Similarities of VCF Film & The Diaphragm

The same woman might consider both options for meeting contraceptive needs. They have a lot in common. Here are some of their similarities:

  • Hormone-free
  • Female-controlled
  • No effect on fertility long-term
  • No protection against STDs
  • The active ingredient is Nonoxynol-9
  • Use together with condoms to increase effectiveness
  • Insert up to two hours prior to sex

Both birth control methods can be a great choice for a woman who wants a non-hormonal, fast-acting, reversible birth control that’s 100% under her control. The drawbacks to using these products are also similar, offering no STD protection, both containing Nonoxynol-9 which can be an irritant, and requiring vaginal insertion at just the right time prior to sex to maximize effectiveness.

Spotting the Differences Between The Diaphragm & Contraceptive Film

By now, both options seem like a pretty great choice for some women. And while you can switch between using either method from one day to the next, you should know what the differences are between the two.

Prescription Requirement & Front-Loaded Cost

Your up-front cost for a diaphragm will be higher than VCF film. That’s because a prescription is required for the device, but not for the film. At My Virtual Physician, we try to keep your costs affordable. That’s why we’ve partnered with Caya to provide a hassle-free experience in getting your prescription from us. Sometimes insurance will cover 100% of the cost for your consultation and for the diaphragm as well. If not, you can get your appointment for $49.99 with MVP, and your diaphragm out-of-pocket cost will be under $100.

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Cost Comparison Over the Long-Haul

Diaphragms last about two years, so the initial cost will reoccur every couple of years if you continue to use this method for birth control. Contraceptive films have no device or prescription requirement, so you’ll just need to purchase the films over the counter for around a dollar per film.

A small amount of spermicide gel is also required for the diaphragm, so it will need to be continually purchased while you use a diaphragm. Spermicide that is compatible with diaphragms includes Gynol II, which comes in tubes with a re-fillable applicator, and VCF Gel pre-filled applicators. The cost varies from one to two dollars per application. Keep in mind, though, that less spermicide is required during the initial insertion of the diaphragm—only one to two teaspoons, so your tube of spermicide can potentially last longer than single-use films.

Which is More Effective?

According to VCF’s packaging, they boast a 94% effectiveness and up to 99% effectiveness when used with condoms. That outpaces Caya’s published effectiveness rates of 86% when used perfectly. However, there is no data about how effective the Caya diaphragm is when used together with condoms. Since condoms alone are 87% effective, using them along with spermicide and a diaphragm plummets your chances of unplanned pregnancy.

It’s hard to compare apples to apples, but it seems both methods are quite effective when used together with condoms, and VCF films are slightly more effective than diaphragms with spermicide if not using condoms.

Which One Works Faster?

With both contraceptive films and diaphragms—timing is important, along with following the instructions carefully. For the film to work properly, it needs 15 minutes after insertion to activate. The diaphragm, on the other hand, doesn’t require any downtime, and you can get into the action right away.

When it comes to round two, both diaphragms and films need some attention. Never remove the diaphragm between rounds, but add more spermicide with an applicator before each one. For the contraceptive film, a new film must be inserted every time you have intercourse, plus add the 15-minute waiting period.

Which Option Requires Less Maintenance?

The film may be easier when it comes to managing the after-care because there is nothing more to do once you’re done having sex. The chemicals are naturally removed through bodily fluids. Diaphragms, on the other hand, must be left in place for six hours so that the spermicide works completely, and then removed, cleaned, and put back in the case for next time.

Related: The Do’s and Don’ts of Using a Diaphragm for Birth Control

Which is Easier to Use?

Both methods of birth control have a learning curve when it comes to inserting them. Some complaints about the film include:

  • Sticking to the fingers
  • Not ergonomically designed
  • Fingers must be dry
  • Difficult to insert
  • The waiting period after insertion

The diaphragm can also be challenging to learn how to insert. But, the Caya Contoured Diaphragm was designed with a woman’s body in mind and comes with grips and a removal dome to help with the insertion and removal process.

So, Which Contraceptive Option is Better For You?

Looking at the comparison laid out above, there are definite pros and cons for each method. Deciding which one is best for you is a personal decision between you and your doctor.

There are a lot of options out there when it comes to pregnancy prevention. Luckily, non-hormonal options are becoming more accessible, giving women more control over their reproductive health. If you’re considering a change to your birth control method, contact our doctors to talk about your options.

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