Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Birth Control Health Center

Font Size

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.

Recommended Related to Birth Control

No-Period Birth Control

Q: I’m a little wary of the new no-period birth control pills on the market. Are they safe? A: The FDA approved the first no-period pill (brand name Lybrel) in 2007. And, yes, this new pill is safe. It isn’t that different from other low-dose birth control pills that use estrogen and progestin to stop ovulation. Instead of taking four to seven days of placebo pills, however, women take Lybrel continuously, with no breaks and no period. Seasonale, another extended-use oral contraceptive,...

Read the No-Period Birth Control article > >

  • 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.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).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).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.

    Next Article:

    Spermicide for Birth Control Topics

    Today on WebMD

    Here's what to expect.
    man opening condom wrapper
    Do you know the right way to use them?
    birth control pills
    Here's what to do next.
    doctor and patient
    His and her options.
    Concerned teenage girl
    hospital gown
    Birth Control Pills Weight Gain
    Ortho Evra Birth Control Patch
    contraceptive pills
    Young couple looking at each other, serious
    woman reading pregnancy test result