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Guide to Spermicide

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on December 15, 2020

What Is Spermicide?

Spermicide is a chemical that prevents pregnancy by killing sperm so they can’t fertilize an egg. The only spermicide available in the U.S. is nonoxynol-9 (N-9). You can get it as a foam, jelly, tablet, cream, suppository, or dissolvable film. You can use spermicide by itself or combine it with other methods.

Some condoms have spermicide. You need to use the chemical with some devices designed to block sperm from fertilizing an egg, such as cervical caps and shields.

What Are Spermicide Condoms?

Spermicide condoms are coated with N-9. It can also act as a lubricant. They are an effective form of birth control but don’t have any benefit over condoms without spermicide. There’s no evidence that spermicides cause birth defects, and spermicide condoms are safe to use when you’re pregnant.

There are some downsides to this type of condom, however. Spermicide is known to lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs) 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.

Because spermicide condoms often cost more, expire quicker, and have 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.

How Do You Use Spermicide?

Use spermicide condoms as you would any other condom. For foams, jellys, films, and other forms, the exact directions vary with the type you have.

With paper-thin vaginal contraceptive film, for example, you place it in your vagina on or near the cervix (the entrance to the uterus), where the film dissolves in seconds. The spermicide in it works for 1 to 3 hours.

After inserting the film, you should wait at least 15 minutes before having sex. And you must use a new film each time you have intercourse.

Other spermicides may require different steps and timing, which is why you need to follow the directions on the package carefully. In general, most types tell you to:

  • Insert the spermicide deep into your vagina.
  • Wait 10-15 minutes before you have sex.
  • Don’t wait any longer than 30-60 minutes to have sex.
  • Leave it in for at least 6 hours after sex.

How Effective Is Spermicide?

Although you can use spermicide alone, it works better when you combine it with a condom or diaphragm. Spermicide used alone is about 70% to 80% effective.

Spermicide condoms prevent pregnancy 87% of the time with typical use. And when used perfectly (wearing them properly, putting them on before sex, storing them properly in a cool, dry place, etc.), they work 98% of the time.

Does Spermicide Protect Against Sexually Transmitted Diseases?

No. This includes caps and shields used with spermicides, as well as spermicide condoms. Although it might seem that a condom with spermicide would be more effective in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), that’s not the case. They are no better at preventing the transmission of STDs, like gonorrhea and chlamydia, than any other kind of condom.

Because N-9 may raise your chances of contracting STDs, including HIV , you shouldn’t use spermicide condoms if you or your partner have HIV or AIDS. They are ineffective at STD prevention during anal sex.

Spermicide also may irritate your genitals. This can make it easier for you to get HIV and other STDs.  If your penis or vagina gets irritated, stop using the spermicide and see your doctor.

Other than not having sex, male latex condoms without spermicide are the best way to prevent STDs.

Where Can I Buy Spermicide?

You need to get a prescription from your doctor for cervical caps and shields. You  can get other products with spermicide at most drugstores and supermarkets without a prescription. Follow the package instructions carefully.

How Much Do Spermicides Cost?

It varies by type, but it ranges from 50 cents to $1.50 per use or about $8 per package.

Is There Another Option?

A non-hormonal gel called Phexxi is designed to use the body’s own vaginal environment to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg. Like spermicide, it needs to be inserted into your vagina before sex.

Spermicides block the entrance to the cervix and slow the sperm, but Phexxi changes the pH level of the vagina during sex, effectively killing the sperm. It is considered 86% to 93% effective.

Phexxi is available by prescription only.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Family Planning Services of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

EngenderHealth.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Spermicide.”

National Health Service (UK): “Your contraception guide.”               

DrugBank: “Nonoxynol-9.”

World Health Organization: “Nonoxynol-9 ineffective in preventing HIV infection.”

K4Health: “Family Planning: A Global Handbook for Providers.”

Mayo Clinic: “Spermicide.”

Federal Register: “Over-the-counter vaginal contraceptive and spermicide drug products containing nonoxynol 9; required labeling. Final rule.”

AIDS: “Rectal use of nonoxynol-9 among men who have sex with men.”

CDC: “Nonoxynol-9 Spermicide Contraception Use -- United States, 1999,” “Condom Effectiveness.”

Mount Sinai: “You Asked It: Does Spermicide Work?”

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