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.[1]

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.[2]

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.”[3]

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,[4] and they aid the health of the woman.[5]

Furthermore, when a man and woman have intercourse, the woman’s body becomes accustomed to the man’s sperm.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11] As you can see, a woman’s body is created to work with a man’s in a precise way. When we tinker with God’s designs, and try to flip fertility on and off like a light switch, we create more problems for ourselves.

[1]. Mosher, et al., “Use of Contraception and Use of Family Planning Services in the United States: 1982-–2002.” Advance Data No. 350, Center for Disease Control (2002).
[2]. Hatcher, et al., Contraceptive Technology, 18th ed. (New York: Ardent Media, 2000); Guttmacher Institute “Choice of Contraceptives,” The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics 34: (1992): 111-114.
[3}. Ortho All-Flex Diaphragm Fitting Set, Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc., August 2006.
[4]. G.G. Gallup, Jr., et al., “Does Semen Have Antidepressant Properties?” Archives of Sexual Behavior 31:3 (June 2002), 289–293; P.G. Ney, “The Intravaginal Absorption of Male Generated Hormones and Their Possible Effect on Female Behaviour,” Medical Hypotheses 20:2 (June 1986), 221–231; Herbert Ratner, “Semen and Health: The Condom Condemned,” Child and Family (1990); C. J. Thaler, “Immunological Role for Seminal Plasma in Insemination and Pregnancy,” American Journal of Reproductive Immunology 21:3–4 (November/December 1989), 147–150.
[5]. Ratner; Ney, 221–231.
[6]. S.A. Robertson, et al., “Transforming Growth Factor Beta—A Mediator of Immune Deviation in Seminal Plasma,” Journal of Reproductive Immunology 57:1–2 (October/November 2002), 109–128.
[7]. Douglas Fox, “Gentle Persuasion,” New Scientist (February 9, 2002); Douglas Fox, “Why Sex, Really?” U.S. News and World Report (October 21, 2002), 60–62.
[8]. S.A. Robertson, et al., “The Role of Semen in Induction of Maternal Immune Tolerance to Pregnancy,” Seminars in Immunology 13 (2001), 243; John B. Wilks, A Consumer’s Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs, 2nd ed. (Stafford, Va.: American Life League, Inc., 1997), 136.
[9]. A. Hirozawa, “Preeclampsia and Eclampsia, While Often Preventable, Are Among Top Causes of Pregnancy-Related Deaths,” Family Planning Perspectives 33:4 (July/August 2001), 182; Andrea Mackay, et al., “Pregnancy-Related Mortality From Preeclampsia and Eclampsia,” Obstetrics & Gynecology 97 (2001), 533–538.
[10]. H. S. Klonoff-Cohen, et al., “An Epidemiologic Study of Contraception and Preeclampsia,” The Journal of the American Medical Association 262:22 (December 8, 1989), 3143–3147.
[11]. S.A. Robertson, et al., “Seminal ‘Priming’ for Protection from Pre-Eclampsia: A Unifying Hypothesis,” Journal of Reproductive Immunology 59:2 (August 2003), 253–265; G.R. Verwoerd, et al., “Primipaternity and Duration of Exposure to Sperm Antigens as Risk Factors for Pre-eclampsia,” International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics78:2 (August 2002), 121–126; J. I. Einarsson, et al., “Sperm Exposure and Development of Preeclampsia,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 188:5 (May 2003), 1241–1243; M. Hernandez-Valencia, et al., “[Barrier Family Planning Methods as Risk Factors Which Predisposes to Preeclampsia],” Ginecologia y Obstetrica de Mexico 68 (August 2000), 333–338; Dekker, et al., “Immune Maladaptation in the Etiology of Preeclampsia: A Review of Corroborative Epidemiologic Studies,” Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey 53:6 (June 1998), 377–382.