What Is It?
Spermicides come in several different forms: cream, gel, foam, film,
and suppositories. Most spermicides contain nonoxynol-9, a chemical
that kills sperm. Spermicides can be used alone but are more effective
when used with another method of birth control such as a condom or
How Does It Work?
Spermicides kill the sperm before they are able to swim into the
uterus. To be effective, the spermicide must be placed deep in the
vagina and make contact with the cervix. Creams, gels, and foams
are squirted into the vagina using an applicator. Other types of
spermicides include vaginal contraceptive film (VCF), a thin sheet
placed in the back of vagina by hand, and vaginal suppositories.
Spermicides must be placed in the vagina before sexual intercourse.
Some offer protection right away (like foams and gels), whereas
suppositories and VCF must be placed in the vagina at least 15 minutes
before sex so they have enough time to dissolve and spread. All
forms of spermicides are effective when inserted less than 1 hour
before having sex. If more than 1 hour goes by before having sex,
or if you have sex again, another application of spermicide is needed.
Spermicide should not be washed or douched away for at least 6 hours
after having sex.
How Well Does It Work?
Over the course of 1 year, about 29 out of 100 typical couples who
rely on spermicide alone to prevent pregnancy will have an accidental
pregnancy. Of course, this is an average figure and the chance of
getting pregnant depends on whether you use spermicides correctly
and every time you have sex. Spermicides are most effective when
used in combination with another form of birth control.
In general, how well each type of birth control method works depends
on a lot of things. These include whether a person has any health
conditions or is taking any medications that might interfere with
its use. It also depends on whether the method chosen is convenient
- and whether the person remembers to use it correctly all the time.
Spermicides are not as effective on their own as other forms of
birth control. However, they are convenient, inexpensive, and easy
Protection Against STDs
Spermicides alone are not effective against sexually transmitted
diseases (STDs). For those having sex, condoms must always be used
with spermicide to protect against STDs.
Abstinence (not having sex) is the only method that always prevents
pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Possible Side Effects
Spermicides may irritate the vagina and surrounding skin. Another
possible side effect is recurrent urinary tract infections because
the spermicide can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in a girl's
Who Uses It?
People who can take responsibility for planning birth control in
advance of having sex and couples using condoms or other barrier
methods of contraception who want extra protection against pregnancy
How Do You Get It?
Spermicides are available without a prescription and are found in
drugstores and some supermarkets. (In some stores, they will be
in an aisle that's called "Family Planning.") They are
often found near the condoms and feminine hygiene products. But
be careful when choosing a spermicide - the packages may look like
those of some feminine hygiene products, such as douches or washes,
which don't provide any birth control protection at all.
How Much Does It Cost?
Depending on the type of spermicide you choose (film is more expensive
than gel), spermicide costs only about $0.50 to $1.50 per use.