Spermicide is a substance that contains chemicals, such as nonoxynol-9, that immobilize or kill sperm. Spermicide is put into the vagina before sex to prevent sperm from entering the uterus. Spermicide is available without a prescription and comes in many forms, including cream, gel, foam, film, suppository and tablet.

Spermicide isn't a highly effective birth control method when used alone. However, spermicide can also be used with a barrier method — such as a condom, diaphragm or cervical cap — to prevent pregnancy. Spermicide doesn't offer protection from sexually transmitted infections.

Spermicide is a contraceptive substance that can help prevent pregnancy. Spermicide:

  • Can be used alone or with a barrier method, such as a condom, diaphragm, contraceptive sponge or cervical cap
  • Doesn't require partner cooperation
  • Doesn't require a prescription
  • Doesn't have the same side effects as hormone-based birth control methods
  • Increases lubrication during sex

Spermicide isn't appropriate for everyone, however. Your health care provider may discourage use of spermicide if:

  • You're at high risk of contracting HIV or you have HIV or AIDS
  • You have frequent urinary tract infections
  • You're at high risk of pregnancy — you're younger than age 30, you have sex three or more times a week, or you're not likely to consistently use spermicide

An estimated 28 out of 100 women who use spermicide alone will get pregnant in the first year of typical use. Spermicide is more effective at preventing pregnancy when used with a barrier method of birth control.

Spermicide may increase the risk of urinary tract infections. Vaginal irritation — such as burning or itching or a rash — is the most common side effect of spermicide. It's also possible to have an allergic reaction to spermicide.

Spermicide doesn't offer protection from sexually transmitted infections. In fact, frequent use of spermicide may increase vaginal irritation, which may increase the risk of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. Similarly, spermicide shouldn't be used rectally because it may cause irritation and increase the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.

Before using spermicide, read the product instructions carefully. Consult your health care provider if you have any concerns.

Before using spermicide, read the product instructions carefully. Consult your health care provider if you have any concerns.

What you can expect

To use spermicide:

  • Choose a type of spermicide. Foams, gels and creams offer immediate protection, while suppositories, films and tablets need to be inserted 10 to 30 minutes before sex to dissolve and become active. If more than one hour passes between the application of spermicide and sex, reapply spermicide.
  • Apply spermicide. Find a comfortable position, such as lying down. Use an applicator or your fingers to insert spermicide into your vagina on or near your cervix. If you use an applicator, fill the applicator with the recommended amount of cream, gel or foam and insert it into your vagina as far as it will go. Push the plunger on the applicator to release the spermicide near your cervix. To insert spermicide by hand, wash and dry your hands and place the suppository, film or tablet on your fingers. Slide your fingers along the back wall of your vagina as far as you can so that the spermicide covers or rests on or near your cervix. If you're using spermicide with a diaphragm or cervical cap, follow the instructions that come with the device. If you have sex more than once, apply fresh spermicide before each sexual encounter.
  • Be cautious after sex. For maximum effectiveness, make sure the spermicide remains in your vagina for at least six hours after sex. After six hours, there's no need to clean any remaining spermicide from your vagina. Douching isn't recommended — but if you choose to douche after sex, wait at least six hours.

Consult your health care provider if you have:

  • Persistent vaginal irritation
  • Recurring urinary tract infections
Jan. 09, 2013