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.
When using a jelly, foam, or cream, you can then
have sex right away.
A spermicide film or suppository is inserted
deep into the vagina using a finger and is placed close to the cervix. Film or
suppositories must be inserted at least 15 minutes before having sex to allow the spermicide to spread in the
One application of spermicide is necessary for each act of
A nonprescription method
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.
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.
Effectiveness in preventing pregnancy
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.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.
Spermicide used alone has a high failure rate
of 29% for typical users. This means that in 1 year, 29 out of 100 women who
use spermicide as their only method of birth control get pregnant. The perfect
use failure rate is still high at 18% (18 out of 100 women).2
Spermicide used with another barrier method
(condoms, diaphragm, or cervical cap) is more effective at preventing pregnancy
than spermicide alone. For example, spermicide with a diaphragm has an average
failure rate of 16%. This means that in a year, 16 out of 100 women who use a
diaphragm and spermicide together get pregnant. The perfect use failure rate is
much lower, at 6% (6 out of 100 women).2
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
Effectiveness in preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
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
Advantages of spermicides
They do not affect future fertility for either
the woman or the man.
They are used only at the time of sexual
They are safe to use while breast-feeding (birth
control that contains estrogen affects milk supply).
They are less
expensive than hormonal methods of birth control.
They are safe for
women who have other health problems (birth control that contains estrogen
makes some health conditions worse).
Disadvantages of spermicides
Failure rates for
barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control. Other
disadvantages include the following:
Spermicides cause an extra discharge from the vagina. Women who
use spermicides should not douche for at least 8 hours after intercourse so
that the spermicide continues to work to prevent pregnancy. (Douching is not
recommended for women in general.)
Some people are allergic to
nonoxynol-9, the active ingredient in most spermicides. They can develop
itching or sores in the vagina or on the penis, which make it more likely that
HIV can be passed from an infected person during sex.
nonoxynol-9 in spermicides may also increase the risk of getting HIV/AIDS from
an infected partner.
Some people are embarrassed to use spermicide
and a barrier method or worry that it may interrupt foreplay or intercourse.
This can create a problem with using it every time they have sex.
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 (2007). Choosing a contraceptive:
Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds.,
Contraceptive Technology, 19th ed., pp. 19–47. New
York: Ardent Media.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.