Spermicide is a type of contraceptive that kills sperm or stops it from moving. You insert spermicide in the vagina before sex. The chemicals in the spermicide, such as nonoxynol-9, prevent sperm from entering the uterus. You can get spermicide over-the-counter. It's available in many forms, including cream, gel, foam, film, suppository and tablet.
Spermicide isn't a very effective birth control method when used alone. However, you can use spermicide with a barrier method — such as a condom, diaphragm or cervical cap — to improve its effectiveness with preventing pregnancy. Spermicide doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections.
Why it's done
Spermicide is a contraceptive that helps to prevent pregnancy. Spermicide:
- Is most effective when used 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 right for everyone. 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 or you have sex three or more times a week
- You're not likely to consistently use spermicide along with other barrier methods
About 28 out of 100 women who use spermicide alone will get pregnant in the first year of typical use. Using backup birth control can reduce the risk of pregnancy.
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. Spermicide may also cause an allergic reaction.
Spermicide doesn't prevent sexually transmitted infections. Using spermicide frequently may increase vaginal irritation, which may increase the risk of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. You shouldn't use spermicide rectally because it may cause irritation and increase the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.
Spermicide may cause penile irritation or burning urination in your sexual partner.
How you prepare
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 begin working immediately, while suppositories, films and tablets need to be inserted 10 to 30 minutes before sex to dissolve. 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. Using an applicator or your fingers, 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. 26, 2019
- Birth control methods fact sheet. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/birth-control-methods.html. Accessed Oct. 28, 2015.
- Barrier methods of contraception. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/-/media/For-Patients/faq022.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20151028T0940581149. Accessed Oct. 28, 2015.
- Over-the-counter vaginal contraceptive and spermicide drug products containing nonoxynol-9; Required labeling. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/OHRMS/DOCKETS/98fr/80n-0280-nfr0003.pdf. Accessed Oct. 28, 2015.
- Hatcher RA, et al., eds. Vaginal barriers and spermicides. In: Contraceptive Technology. 21st ed. New York, N.Y.: Ayer Company Publishers; 2018.
- Bartz DA. Pericoital contraception: Diaphragm, cervical cap, spermicide, and sponge. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Jan. 9, 2019.
- Rohren CH (expert opinion) Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 29, 2015.