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Sexual Health, Birth Control, and Spermicides

Birth control is a way for men and women to prevent pregnancy. There are many different methods of birth control. Some types also protect against sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs.

Spermicides are foams, jellies, tablets, creams, suppositories, or dissolvable films. Chemicals within the spermicide destroy the sperm, preventing it from fertilizing an egg. Most spermicides use the chemical nonoxynol-9.

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will provide free women’s preventive services, including mammograms, birth control and well-woman visits. Learn more.

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How Effective Are Spermicides?

Although spermicides can be used alone, they are more effective when combined with a condom or diaphragm. Spermicides used alone are about 70% to 80% effective, but when used together and properly, spermicides and condoms are about 97% effective in preventing pregnancy.

Do Spermicides Protect Against Sexually Transmitted Diseases?

It was initially thought that spermicides offered protection against some sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). Recent studies have revealed that spermicides do not appear to prevent STDs after all. Frequent use of spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 may actually cause irritation and small tears of the genital tissue, allowing for easier transmission of HIV and other STDs. If irritation of the vagina or penis develops, it is recommended to discontinue use and follow up with your doctor.

Abstinence is the most effective way to prevent STDs. However, for those individuals choosing to have sex, condoms provide the best protection from most STDs. Spermicides do not add protection against STDs, but may help prevent pregnancy, particularly when a condom breaks or spills.

Where Can I Get Spermicides?

Spermicides are available without a prescription at most drug stores and supermarkets. Follow the package instructions carefully.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH on August 11, 2014

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