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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Spermicide for Birth Control
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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.
One application of spermicide is necessary for each act of sexual intercourse.
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.
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.footnote 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.
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.
Spermicides used alone do not protect against STIs, including infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). You must use a condom for the best possible STI protection.
Most spermicides contain a chemical called nonoxynol-9 (N9). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that N9 in vaginal contraceptives and spermicides may irritate the lining of the vagina or rectum. This may increase the risk of getting HIV/AIDS from an infected partner.
Failure rates for barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control. Other disadvantages include the following:
Raymond EG, et al. (2004). Contraceptive effectiveness and safety of five nonoxynol-9 spermicides: A randomized trial. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 103(3): 430–439.
Trussell J, Guthrie KA (2011). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 20th ed., pp. 45–74. Atlanta: Ardent Media.
Current as of:
June 16, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Sarah Marshall MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineRebecca Sue Uranga
Current as of: June 16, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Rebecca Sue Uranga
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