Spermicide pros and cons


Spermicide: The Pros and Cons

Spermicides designed to immobilize and kill sperm before pregnancy can occur. They can be used as birth control on their own or in combination with other devices, such as condoms, diaphragms, or cervical caps.

When used by themselves, spermicides aren’t very good at preventing pregnancy. Fifteen percent of couples who use a spermicide as directed will become pregnant over the course of a year. Of the couples who use spermicide incorrectly, 29 percent will become pregnant.

A spermicide used correctly with a condom, however, can have a failure rate as low as 3 percent, and is just about as effective when used with birth control devices like a diaphragm.

Keep in mind that spermicides provide no protection at all against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In fact, they may even increase your risk of contracting STDs because spermicidal chemicals can irritate your skin, leaving you more vulnerable to infection.

Types of Spermicide

For a spermicide to work, it must be inserted deep into the vagina so that it forms a barrier over the cervix, the opening into the womb. Spermicides come in a variety of forms, including:

  • Gels, jellies, and creams. These come in different consistencies and textures, but all contain about the same amount of spermicidal chemical, between 1 percent and 5 percent. They are inserted into the vagina using a syringe-like applicator.
  • Foam. This type of spermicide contains a high level of spermicidal chemical, about 12.5 percent, and can prove more irritating to the genitals. Foam also is inserted using a syringe-like applicator.
  • Vaginal contraceptive film. This spermicide comes in the form of a 2-inch-square piece of film that feels much like wax paper. You insert it by folding it in half twice, then placing it on your finger and sliding it deep into the vagina. It contains an even higher level of spermicidal chemical — about 28 percent.
  • Suppositories. These spermicides come in solid form, and are inserted by hand. They contain 2 to 8 percent of the spermicidal chemical.

Follow Directions Included With the Spermicide

You need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely when using any of these products, as the specific directions may vary. Also, make sure that you give them enough time to work before having sexual intercourse. It takes about 10 minutes for gels, jellies, creams, and foam to reach full effectiveness.

Vaginal contraceptive film takes about 15 minutes to dissolve into a thick gel. Suppositories take 10 to 15 minutes before they dissolve and take effect.

Pros and Cons of Spermicides

The pros of spermicides:

  • They’re easy to purchase in a pharmacy, and do not require a doctor’s visit.
  • They have no lasting effect on a woman’s hormones.
  • They can be conveniently tucked into your pocket or purse.
  • They’re inexpensive.

The cons of spermicides:

  • They take a little while to provide full protection, and must be used correctly in order to block sperm from entering the uterus, or womb.
  • When used alone, they’re much less effective than other birth control methods.
  • They don’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
  • They may irritate the genitals and increase the chance of STDs.

Talk with your partner about the good and bad qualities of spermicides to decide if using one is right for you.

Spermicide for Birth Control

Topic Overview

A spermicide is a substance that kills sperm. Spermicides are available as jelly, foam, cream, suppositories, and film. The active ingredient of most spermicides is a chemical called nonoxynol-9.

Most spermicides come with an applicator. The applicator is filled with spermicide and inserted into the vagina right before intercourse.

  • When using a jelly, foam, or cream, you can then have sex right away.
  • A spermicide film or suppository is inserted deep into the vagina using a finger and is placed close to the cervix. Film or suppositories must be inserted at least 15 minutes before having sex to allow the spermicide to spread in the vagina.

One application of spermicide is necessary for each act of sexual intercourse.

A nonprescription method

Spermicide use does not require a prescription or a visit to a health professional. Spermicide is sold in drugstores, grocery stores, and family planning clinics.

Spermicide and a condom used together provide a reasonable level of birth control without a prescription. Using spermicide alone is not recommended because it offers poor pregnancy prevention and does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In fact, the nonoxynol-9 in most spermicides may increase the risk of getting HIV/AIDS from an infected partner.

Effectiveness in preventing pregnancy

The most effective strength spermicide contains at least 100 mg of nonoxynol-9 per dose. You are more likely to get pregnant if you use a weaker spermicide. There is no difference in effectiveness between various spermicide types, such as gel, film, or suppository.footnote 1

Typical use failure rate includes all possible users, including people who are careless and those who use a method perfectly every time. Perfect use failure rate includes only people who use a method perfectly every time.

  • Spermicide used alone has a high failure rate of 28% for typical users. This means that in 1 year, 28 out of 100 women who use spermicide as their only method of birth control get pregnant. The perfect use failure rate is still high, at 18% (18 out of 100 women).footnote 2
  • Spermicide used with another barrier method (condoms, diaphragm, or cervical cap) is more effective at preventing pregnancy than spermicide alone. For example, spermicide with a diaphragm has an average failure rate of 12%. This means that in a year, 12 out of 100 women who use a diaphragm and spermicide together get pregnant. The perfect use failure rate is much lower, at 6% (6 out of 100 women).footnote 2

Vaginal douching is not considered a birth control method even if it is done with spermicides. Douching after intercourse does not prevent sperm from reaching the fallopian tubes, where fertilization takes place.

Effectiveness in preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Spermicides used alone do not protect against STIs, including infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). You must use a condom for the best possible STI protection.

Most spermicides contain a chemical called nonoxynol-9 (N9). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that N9 in vaginal contraceptives and spermicides may irritate the lining of the vagina or rectum. This may increase the risk of getting HIV/AIDS from an infected partner.

Advantages of spermicides

  • They do not affect future fertility for either the woman or the man.
  • They are used only at the time of sexual intercourse.
  • They are safe to use while breastfeeding (birth control that contains estrogen affects milk supply).
  • They are less expensive than hormonal methods of birth control.
  • They are safe for women who have other health problems (birth control that contains estrogen makes some health conditions worse).

Disadvantages of spermicides

Failure rates for barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control. Other disadvantages include the following:

  • Spermicides cause an extra discharge from the vagina. Women who use spermicides should not douche for at least 8 hours after intercourse so that the spermicide continues to work to prevent pregnancy. (Douching is not recommended for women in general.)
  • Some people are allergic to nonoxynol-9, the active ingredient in most spermicides. They can develop itching or sores in the vagina or on the penis, which make it more likely that HIV can be passed from an infected person during sex.
  • The nonoxynol-9 in spermicides may also increase the risk of getting HIV/AIDS from an infected partner.
  • Some people are embarrassed to use spermicide and a barrier method or worry that it may interrupt foreplay or intercourse. This can create a problem with using it every time they have sex.


Spermicide Effectiveness, Side Effects, and Risks

Spermicide is a chemical product that comes in the form of a jelly, foam, or cream and is a barrier method of birth control. It’s spermicidal chemicals are designed to kill the sperm before they reach the uterus.

How effective is spermicide?

Spermicidal chemicals alone are not considered an effective form of birth control. The typical use of spermicide, which is considered the way most people use it, possesses a failure rate of 28%. Spermicides should be used with another barrier method of birth control such as a diaphragm, cervical cap, or condom. You should take a pregnancy test if you are experiencing any pregnancy symptoms.

What are the side effects or health risks of spermicides?

In some individuals, allergic reaction to spermicides may lead to itching, burning, or redness.

Are spermicides reversible?

Yes. They do not have any effects on either the male or female reproductive cycle. It is possible to get pregnant immediately if it is no longer used.

How much does spermicide cost?

Foams, jellies, or creams range in cost from approximately $7 to $18 and average approximately 25¢ per use.

What about spermicides and sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s)?

Spermicidal chemicals do not prevent contact of the vagina from the partner’s skin or bodily fluids. Spermicide should NOT be considered as a means of protection from sexually transmitted diseases.

What are the pros & cons of spermicides?

  • The Pros:
    • When combined with other barrier methods (condom, diaphragm, or cervical cap), the combined failure rate is between 3% – 10%.
    • Doctor visits are not required to obtain spermicide.
    • Spermicide is easily accessible at grocery stores, drug stores, and supercenters.
    • It is inexpensive and easy to carry.
  • The Cons:
    • Spermicide must be inserted less than 30 minutes prior to intercourse and ideally less than 20 minutes.
    • It must be inserted for each act of sexual intercourse.
    • It requires another barrier method to avoid high failure rates.
    • Spermicide does NOT protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

More helpful articles:

  • Types of Birth Control
  • Birth Control Failure
  • Birth Control Pills
  • Birth Control Patch

Compiled using information from the following sources:

1. Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. (n.d.). Choosing a method of birth control: Spermicides.

Condoms with spermicide: Do they work?

Share on PinterestAn IUD may be an effective form of birth control, although it does not protect against STIs.

Spermicide condoms are not for everyone, and there are many different types of birth control available. Each method has a different level of effectiveness and other pros and cons, so the choice depends on the individual.

Other options for preventing pregnancy include:

  • Intrauterine device (IUD): A small plastic or copper coil inserted into a woman’s womb that stops the sperm or egg surviving. IUDs do not protect against STIs.
  • Birth control implant: A small tube inserted into the arm that stops eggs from being released. An implant lasts for up to 3 years but does not protect against STIs.
  • Vaginal ring (NuvaRing): A small plastic ring is inserted into the vagina and lasts up to 21 days. The vaginal ring alone does not prevent STIs.
  • The contraceptive injection: There is a range of contraceptive injections that last for various lengths of time. The injection contains progestogen, which can prevent the release of an egg and stop sperm from reaching it. The contraceptive injection does not prevent STIs.
  • Birth control pill: There are many different versions of the contraceptive pill that are effective at preventing pregnancy if taken correctly. Birth control pills do not prevent STIs.
  • The sponge: The contraceptive sponge is worn inside the vagina and prevents sperm from entering the cervix using a barrier and spermicide. It does not protect against STIs.
  • A diaphragm: A diaphragm is inserted into the vagina, so it covers the cervix and blocks sperm from entering. Wearing a diaphragm alone will not prevent STI’s.
  • Emergency contraception: Sometimes called the morning after pill, emergency contraception works by preventing or delaying the release of an egg.

The female condom is worn inside the vagina and prevents sperm from entering the cervix. When worn correctly, it can protect against STIs, in much the same way as condoms that are worn on the penis.

Every type of birth control method has positives and negatives. A person’s lifestyle, personal preference, and overall health can all help determine which kind of birth control and STI protection suits them best.

Although hormonal birth control is excellent and effective, different types can cause different side effects, both good and bad. For example, the Pill can cause lighter, cramp-free periods, but it can also lead to vaginal dryness and a lower libido. As for non-hormonal options like the copper IUD, some people may not want to risk their periods becoming heavier and more painful (plus, the insertion can be uncomfortable, to say the least).

Diaphragms come without any hormone-induced side effects, and it’s nice that you can carry one around with you, like a condom, but place it hours before you know you’re going to have sex so you don’t have to interrupt the flow of the action.

Since diaphragms are made of silicone, they can also be helpful for people who are allergic to latex, Pizarro says. (But if you’re going to use lube, avoid oil and silicone varieties, since they can degrade silicone.) The cost can also be a draw; depending on your insurance, a diaphragm can run you anywhere between $0 and $85, although an exam and spermicidal jelly can each boost the price.

Lastly, unlike some other forms of birth control, diaphragms are immediately effective but also immediately reversible if you decide you want to have children ASAP.

And now, the cons, one of which is huge.

The major downside is that diaphragms don’t provide excellent birth control the way many other options do, Pizarro says. “We really want to be able to tell a patient the birth control they’re using is over 99 percent effective,” he explains. Diaphragms, which are 94 percent effective and 88 percent effective for perfect and typical use, respectively, don’t fit the bill.

For comparison’s sake, with perfect use, condoms are 98 percent effective, but they have a typical-use failure rate of 18 percent. The Pill is over 99 percent effective if you don’t make these common mistakes, but with typical use, their failure rate is 9 percent. Besides sterilization, IUDs and the birth control implant are as effective as you can get, with less than a 1 percent failure rate after insertion.

Rogers agrees that if getting pregnant right now would be the worst thing in the world, a diaphragm may not be for you, at least not by itself. “If you absolutely don’t want a baby, you probably want to use something in addition to the diaphragm, like a condom,” Rogers says. You can also use a diaphragm in conjunction with the pull-out method, although that has faults of its own.

Unlike set-it-and-forget-it methods such as an IUD, messing up in the moment can screw with a diaphragm’s protection, Pizarro adds: “If there’s any impairment or rush, the effectiveness of the diaphragm may be substantially diminished.” That’s why using spermicidal jelly is especially handy. But if that spermicidal jelly contains the ingredient nonoxynol-9, it can irritate the vagina, leading to microtears that may make STD transmission more likely. And speaking of irritation, diaphragms have also been linked with frequent urinary tract infections in some women, which may be caused by an improper fit.

Although you and your partner shouldn’t be able to feel the diaphragm during sex, it can pop out thanks to all that activity. You can simply add more spermicidal jelly to make sure you’re covered, then reinsert it. And no matter what, if you two haven’t been tested, aren’t monogamous, or are otherwise at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, you should be using condoms anyway—diaphragms don’t protect against STDs.

The bottom line: Consider the diaphragm if the idea of getting pregnant in the near future doesn’t make you break out in a cold sweat, and you want to avoid hormones.

But if your uterus isn’t open to residents anytime soon, or ever, talk to your doctor about which birth control options are more likely to keep you baby-free.

Watch: 6 Things People Don’t Know About Breast Cancer

What’s spermicide?

Spermicide is a kind of birth control that has chemicals that stop sperm from reaching an egg. You put it in your vagina before sex to prevent pregnancy.

How does spermicide work?

Spermicide is a chemical that you put deep into your vagina right before sex. It prevents pregnancy two ways: blocking the entrance to the cervix so sperm can’t get to your egg, and stopping sperm from moving well enough to swim to your egg.

Spermicide can be used by itself, or combined with other birth control methods. Using spermicide plus a condom gives you extra protection from pregnancy (bonus: condoms prevent STDs, too).

And you need to use spermicide with diaphragms and cervical caps in order for them to work.

Fun fact: the root word “cide” in “spermicide” means “to kill.” Spermicide doesn’t actually “kill” sperm, but it slows it down so it can’t reach an egg.

What are the different kinds of spermicide?

Spermicide comes in many different forms: creams, gels, film, foams, and suppositories (soft inserts that melt into a cream inside your vagina).

There are lots of different spermicide brands and types out there, but they all work in a similar way — blocking the cervix and stopping sperm from moving. The best kind of spermicide to use is the one you like the most.

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Dos and Don’ts

If you or your partner has HIV or AIDS, you shouldn’t use spermicide condoms because spermicides do not protect against HIV or AIDS. They also do not protect against other STDs. All this also makes them ineffective during anal sex.

Spermicide is also known to lead to urinary tract infections in some women. So if you get UTIs often, you may not want to use spermicide condoms.

If you’re having oral sex, you may find that they have a funny taste, so you may want to consider flavored or lubricated condoms instead.

They are safe to use during pregnancy. There’s no evidence that spermicides cause birth defects.

And spermicide condoms are an effective form of birth control, but they do not have any benefit over condoms without spermicide.

If you and your partner only want to prevent pregnancy and are not at risk of getting HIV or an STD, they are one birth control option for you. But due to their cost and potential for irritation, other types of condoms, such as those lubricated with silicone, are often a better choice.

If you’re unsure, talk with your doctor.

Key Facts

  • Male condoms are the best method to lessen the chance of getting STIs.
  • To prevent pregnancy, use condoms with another form of contraception.
  • Only use water based lubricants with condoms.

Male condom

The male condom is a sheath (or covering) worn over the penis during sexual activity. It prevents pregnancy by acting as a barrier, preventing semen from entering the vagina so the sperm can’t reach a female’s “egg”. Condoms also lessen the chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) by acting as a barrier, preventing organisms that carry STIs to pass from one partner to another. Using condoms also allows guys to have an active part in preventing pregnancy.

Out of 100 women using condoms with their partner
Typical use: 18 women become pregnant

(how it’s typically used in real life)

Perfect use: 2 women become pregnant

(if used perfectly every time–see below for details!)

Are there different kinds of condoms?

Yes; condoms come in different sizes, styles, and shapes, and have different features. Condoms can be made out of latex, polyurethane, or “lambskin” (also called natural). Condoms may be lubricated or unlubricated. Some condoms used to contain spermicides (chemicals to kill sperm), but most don’t. It’s best to use condoms without spermicide.

Even though guys are the ones who wear male condoms, you can always keep some on hand if you’re in a sexual relationship. Then you’ll have contraception available, and you can always practice safe sex.

How can I talk with my partner about condoms?

Although it might be difficult or awkward at first, talking with your partner about condoms will greatly increase the chance that you’ll use a condom correctly each and every time you have sex (vaginal, anal, or oral). Chances are, your partner has some of the same questions about condoms that are going through your head, so talking about them will make you both feel more comfortable. Don’t let embarrassment put you in a risky situation–your health is more important. If you’re not comfortable talking about condoms with your partner, you may not be ready to have sex.

Where can I get condoms?

Condoms can be bought at drug stores, many supermarkets, or online. They’re very cheap (about $.50 – $2.50 each – and cheaper when you buy a lot at a time). You may also be able to get them for free at a school health center or a family planning clinic (such as Planned Parenthood).

Does it matter which type of condom I use?

Yes. The best type of condom to use is one made out of latex. It provides the best protection against both pregnancy and STIs. However, if either you or your partner is allergic to latex, polyurethane condoms are still a good option. They provide just about the same protection against pregnancy and also give some protection against STIs, although they break and slip more often than latex condoms. Lambskin condoms are effective against pregnancy, but not effective in the prevention of STIs. It’s up to you to choose whether to use lubricated or unlubricated condoms, although most teens prefer lubricated.

How effective is the male condom against pregnancy?

If a woman has her male partner use a condom every time they have sexual intercourse and follow instructions every time, it’s 98% effective. This means that if 100 women have their partners use the male condom all the time and always use it perfectly, 2 women will become pregnant in a year.

The male condom is most effective against pregnancy when it’s used all the time and always used correctly. If it’s not used perfectly, it’s only 82% effective. This means that in real life, if 100 women have their partners use the male condom, but they don’t use it perfectly every time, at least 18 women will become pregnant in a year.

When used all of the time and when used correctly, condoms are good at preventing pregnancy. Most condom failures happen because of improper use. Always make sure you have a prescription for Emergency Contraception (Plan B) or know where to buy it (over-the-counter) from a pharmacy.

How effective is the condom against STIs?

The answer to this question partly depends on which type of condom used and if the condom is used and removed correctly. Latex condoms provide excellent protection against most STIs. Polyurethane condoms also provide some protection against STIs, although more research studies are needed to know how protective they really are. Remember, lambskin condoms don’t protect against STIs. The pores are too large to protect against the small particles that cause some STIs.

The answer to this question also depends on which type of STI. Latex condoms protect against only certain types of STIs. STIs can be spread by sexual activity in a few different ways. They’re effective in lowering the risk of STIs that travel in bodily fluids (blood or semen), such as the HIV/AIDS virus, hepatitis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea.

Condoms are much less effective against STIs that are caused by organisms that live in sores on the genitals, such as syphilis. STIs such as herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV – also known as genital warts) that occur on the genital skin can get passed from one partner to another even if a condom is used.

Most importantly, the effectiveness of a condom against STIs depends on whether the condom is stored correctly and whether it’s used correctly all of the time.

Are there other ways to lower my chances of getting an STI?

Your best protection is to not have sex. If you make the decision to have sex, condoms are your best protection. You can also lessen your chance of getting an STI by having sex with only one person who doesn’t have an STI and who isn’t having sex with anyone else.

Where should I keep unused condoms?

Keep unused condoms in a dry, dark place at room temperature. Extreme heat or cold can weaken the material. Sunlight or humidity can also break down latex, causing condoms to break or tear more easily. Condoms shouldn’t be carried in a wallet or stored in a car glove compartment because the material will weaken and is more likely to break or tear.

How long are condoms good for?

Always check the date on the box. Some condoms are marked by the manufacture date (MFG = manufacture date). You can use these condoms for up to four years after the date of manufacture. Other condoms are marked EXP, which means expiration date. You shouldn’t use condoms any time after the expiration date. If you’re not sure how old the condom is, throw it away and use a new one. Never use condoms that are brittle, sticky, damaged, or an unusual color. Using out-of-date condoms is another reason for condom failure.

How do I use a condom?

Opening the wrapper: Be careful when opening a condom package so that you don’t tear or nick the latex with your teeth, nails, or rings. Don’t unroll the condom before putting it on the penis, because it can weaken the latex and make the condom difficult to use.

Once the condom is out of the wrapper: Gently press out air at the tip of the condom. Make sure to leave space at the tip (about one-half inch) to collect the semen, so it won’t leak out the side of the condom.

Using lube: You can use a water-based lubricant (such as glycerin or lubricating jelly) during intercourse to prevent condoms from breaking. If you put a drop of lubricant (such as KY-Jelly) inside the tip of the condom, you can increase both sensation and safety.

Never use an oil-based lubricant, since it will weaken the latex and make it break. Examples of oil-based lubricants include Crisco, lotion, Vaseline, or baby oil. Medications used to treat women’s yeast infections can also weaken condoms.

Putting the condom on: You can put a condom on a guy, or he can put it on himself. If you’re putting the condom on your partner, hold the tip of the condom between your thumb and forefinger against the head of his penis. Put the condom on when his penis is erect. If his penis is uncircumcised, pull back the foreskin before putting on the condom. Unroll the condom over the entire length of his erect penis.

Taking the condom off: After a guy has ejaculated, he should pull out while his penis is still hard, since the condom can easily slip off when the erection is lost. He should hold the condom at the base of his penis while withdrawing so semen doesn’t spill out. Then he should gently roll the condom toward the tip of his penis to take it off.

What should you do with a used condom?

You should wrap the used condom in a tissue and throw it out in the trash. Don’t flush it down the toilet, since it can clog plumbing. Condoms can’t be reused, so only use one condom each time you have sexual intercourse.

Remember: Use a new condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

What if the condom breaks or tears?

First of all, don’t panic – but do have the guy withdraw his penis immediately. If you aren’t using another method of birth control such as the Pill, you should strongly consider taking Emergency Contraception to prevent pregnancy. If you can’t get in touch with your health care provider, you can call the Emergency Contraception Hotline (1-888-NOT-2-LATE) or check online. If you think you might have been exposed to an STI, speak with your health care provider.

Other things to remember:

  • If the condom breaks but you want to continue having sexual intercourse, make sure that you use a new condom
  • It’s a good idea to know how to get Emergency Contraception (Plan B) before you need it
  • Try to figure out why the condom broke so that it won’t happen again

How often do condoms break?

Condoms hardly ever break if they’re stored and used correctly. Proper use depends on the skill and experience of the person using them.

When condoms break, it’s usually because:

  • Space for semen wasn’t left at the tip of the condom
  • The condoms are out-of-date
  • The condoms have been exposed to heat or sunlight
  • The condoms have been torn by teeth or fingernails

Also, using oil-based (rather than water-based) lubricants weakens latex, causing condoms to break. So if you store and use condoms properly, it’s very unlikely that your condom will break.

What if the condom comes off and I can’t remove it from my vagina?

Don’t panic! You’ll likely to be able to retrieve it by reaching into your vagina with a finger. If you can’t, contact your health care provider for an appointment.

Can people be allergic to condoms?

Some people may have an allergic reaction to condoms, which can be due to spermicide or latex. If you think it might be due to the latex, you should try a polyurethane male (or female) condom. Make sure the condom doesn’t have spermicide on it.

Do I need to use other forms of contraception with the male condom?

It’s a good idea to use two different types of contraception to increase protection against pregnancy. For example, you can use birth control pills and condoms. However, never use two condoms together – doing this causes friction, which increases the chances that the condom will break.

Spermicide used alone for birth control

Spermicides have been used as birth control for thousands of years. Studies have recently looked at how well they work to prevent pregnancy and whether women like them. Spermicides contain an active ingredient (usually nonoxynol-9) and something to disperse the product, such as foam or vaginal suppository (pessary). This review compared how well different spermicides worked for birth control when used alone.

In August 2013, we did computer searches for randomized trials of spermicides used for birth control. We have not found any new trials since the initial review. For the initial review, we also wrote to researchers to find other trials.

Trials had to focus on a spermicide used alone for birth control. The product could be compared to a different spermicide, the same spermicide used with a barrier method, another dose of the same spermicide, a different base for the same product, or another type of birth control. Each study must have had data on pregnancy.

We located reports from 14 trials for the initial review. We have not found any new trials since then. The largest trial compared five different spermicides. The gel with the smallest amount of nonoxynol-9 did not prevent pregnancy as well as products with more of the same ingredient. Women liked the gel better than the film or suppository. Few differences were found in the other studies. These trials had problems recruiting women into the studies and then keeping them until the trial ended. Large losses to follow up can bias the results.

Types of Birth Control Methods: Spermicide


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Spermicides are hormone-free chemicals that can prevent pregnancy when you use them correctly. When you use spermicide alone, it is only 71% to 85% effective at preventing pregnancy. To make spermicide more effective, many people use spermicide with other forms of birth control, such as condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps.

How Spermicide Prevents Pregnancy

Sperm move from the vagina into the uterus and fallopian tubes to fertilize a woman’s egg around the time of ovulation. Most spermicides contain nonoxynol-9, a chemical that stops sperm from moving beyond the vagina. This decreases the number of sperm available to fertilize the egg and reduces your chance of becoming pregnant. However, spermicide used alone has a failure rate of one in four. This means that you can become pregnant one out of four times you have vaginal sex during your most fertile period of the month. In general, the most fertile period begins about the seventh day after the start of your menstrual period and lasts five to seven days.

How to Use Spermicide

Spermicides come in liquids, gels, foams, creams, suppositories and films. How you use it will depend on the kind that you buy. Before using your spermicide, read the instructions carefully.

  • Liquid, foam, gel and cream spermicides usually come with an applicator similar to a tampon applicator. You use the applicator to insert the spermicide deep into your vagina near your cervix.

  • Film spermicide is inserted into your vagina with your fingers.

You can insert the spermicide 30 minutes to an hour before having sex. With most types of spermicide you need to wait 15 minutes after you put it in to have sex. You must insert more spermicide every time you have sex. You don’t need to wash out the spermicide. It will gradually seep out of your vagina on its own.

Spermicide is more effective when you use it with a condom or cervical cap. Both of these are barrier methods of birth control.

Where to Get Spermicide

You can buy spermicide at grocery stores, drugstores, and health clinics without a prescription. Spermicide cost $7 to $18, or about $1 to $2 per use.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Spermicide

Spermicide, when used excessively or for a long time, can irritate your genitals. This can increase your risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as HIV. To reduce the risk of STDs, use a condom every time you have sex. Other side effects of spermicide may include:

  • Less enjoyable sex

  • Wet or sticky vagina

  • Urinary tract infections

Unlike hormone-based birth control, spermicide won’t affect your long-term fertility. However, spermicide, when used alone, is one of the least effective forms of birth control.
There are many birth control options. Talk to your healthcare provider about your needs and together you can decide if spermicide is right for you.

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