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To evaluate evidence for the effectiveness of female controlled physical and chemical barrier methods in preventing STI/HIV transmission, to examine recent reviews on microbicide development, and to highlight promising research directions. To discuss challenges in conducting effectiveness research and in translating results to public health intervention.Systematic review of articles that examined the disease prevention effectiveness of at least one female controlled barrier method. Review of conference abstracts that presented clinical and preclinical microbicide data.Randomised controlled trials provide evidence that female condoms confer as much protection from STIs as male condoms. Observational studies suggest that the diaphragm protects against STI pathogens. Several microbicide effectiveness studies are under way and new directions, such as adaptation of therapeutic agents as preventive products, are being examined. Substantial attention is now given to product formulation and novel delivery strategies. Combining microbicide products with different mechanisms of action as well as combining chemical and physical barriers will be necessary to maximise prevention effectiveness.Increased investment in the development and identification of female controlled barrier methods offers promise that additional products will be available in the years ahead. Generalising trial results to a community setting, promoting products that may be less effective than male condoms, and bringing an effective product to scale introduce public health challenges that warrant attention. The need for female controlled barrier methods that provide women with the opportunity to take an active role in reducing their STI/HIV risk are urgently needed and constitute an essential tool to prevent continued spread of these infections.