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 diaphragm.
Spermicides immobilize and kill the sperm before they are able to swim into the uterus. To be effective, the spermicide must be placed deep in the vagina, close to 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. The instructions will say how long before sex the spermicide should be used. Some offer protection right away. But most 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 only effective for 1 hour after they are inserted. If more than 1 hour goes by before having sex, or if you have sex again, another application of spermicide is needed. When using spermicides, girls should not douche for at least 6 hours after having sex.
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 every time. Spermicides are not as effective on their own as other forms of birth control. However, they are convenient, inexpensive, and easy to use.
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. Spermicide, especially if used frequently, can cause irritation, which may increase the risk of getting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Abstinence (not having sex) is the only method that always prevents pregnancy and STDs.
Spermicides may irritate the vagina and surrounding skin. This irritation may make it easier to be infected with STDs like HIV. Another possible side effect is recurrent urinary tract infections because the spermicide can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in a girl's body.
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 use spermicides.
Spermicides are available without a prescription and are found in drugstores and some supermarkets (in some stores, they're in the "Family Planning" aisle). They're 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.
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.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013
|Planned Parenthood Info for Teens This site from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America has information on relationships and sexual health for teens.|
|National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy This site provides teen pregnancy facts, resources, and prevention tips.|
|Planned Parenthood Federation of America Planned Parenthood offers information on sexually transmitted diseases, birth control methods, and other issues of sexual health.|
|American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) This site offers information on numerous health issues. The women's health section includes readings on pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum care, breast health, menopause, contraception, and more.|
|GYT - Get Yourself Talking and Get Yourself Tested This media campaign designed to get young people to talk with their health care providers and partners about the importance of getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases.|
|Gyn Checkups Girls should get their first gynecological checkup between ages 13 and 15. Find out what happens during a yearly gyn visit -- and why most girls don't get internal exams.|
|Do You Need a Pelvic Exam to Get Birth Control? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Female Reproductive System Why do girls get periods? What goes on when a girl gets pregnant? What can go wrong with the female reproductive system? Find the answers to these questions and more in this article.|
|How Can I Get on the Pill Without Telling My Parents? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|About Birth Control Before you consider having sex, you need to know how to protect yourself. Read this article to get the basics on birth control.|
|Talking to Your Partner About Condoms Some people - even those who are having sex - are embarrassed by the topic of condoms. Here are some tips for talking about condoms with your partner.|
|Birth Control Methods: How Well Do They Work? Some birth control methods work better than others. This chart compares how well different birth control methods work.|
|IUD Before you consider having sex, you need to know how to protect yourself. Learn more about the IUD and to find out how well it works for teens.|
|When Is it Time to Start Seeing a Gynecologist? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|About Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) You've probably heard lots of discouraging news about sexually transmitted diseases. The good news is that STDs can be prevented. Find out how to protect yourself.|
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