Spermicide is a chemical product that comes in the form of a jelly, foam, or cream and is a barrier method of birth control. It prevents pregnancy by killing sperm or preventing it from reaching the egg. Typically, spermicide is inserted into the vagina before sex. Spermicide is available over the counter.

How effective is spermicide?

Spermicide is one of the less effective birth control methods when used by itself. The typical use of spermicide, which is considered the way most people use it, possesses a failure rate of 28%. Spermicides should be used with another barrier method of birth control such as a diaphragmcervical cap, or condom. You should take a pregnancy test if you are experiencing any pregnancy symptoms.

Some types of spermicide are effective immediately, while other products may take 15 to 30 minutes to activate. Also, some types may stop being effective around an hour after use.

What are the side effects or health risks?

In some individuals, an allergic reaction may lead to itching, burning, or redness.

Are spermicides reversible?

Yes. They do not have any effects on either the male or female reproductive cycle. It is possible to get pregnant immediately if it is no longer used.

What about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?

Spermicidal chemicals do not prevent contact of the vagina from the partner’s skin or bodily fluids. Spermicide should NOT be considered as a means of protection from sexually transmitted diseases.

What are the pros & cons?

  • The Pros:
    • When combined with other barrier methods (condom, diaphragm, or cervical cap), the combined failure rate is between 3% – 10%.
    • Doctor visits are not required to obtain spermicide.
    • It is easily accessible at grocery stores, drug stores, and supercenters.
    • It is inexpensive and easy to carry.
  • The Cons:
    • Spermicide must be inserted less than 30 minutes prior to intercourse and ideally less than 20 minutes.
    • It must be inserted for each act of sexual intercourse.
    • It requires another barrier method to avoid high failure rates.
    • Spermicide does NOT protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

Types of Spermicide

Each type works in slightly different ways. Some mix with vaginal fluid to form a thicker gel to block the cervix, while other forms focus on preventing the sperm from moving.

Nonoxynol-9 damages the cell membrane of sperm, interfering with the sperm’s ability to move and effectively killing the sperm.

Spermicide condoms

Using condoms coated with spermicide is an excellent option to increase the effectiveness for preventing pregnancy and STIs with just one product. It may be more convenient to use a condom with added spermicide instead of using spermicide plus another barrier contraceptive method. Using spermicide and condoms together are about 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy and STIs when used perfectly and depending on the type of spermicide.

Vaginal Contraceptive Sponge

A vaginal contraceptive sponge is made of a soft foam with added spermicide. The product is effective immediately after insertion and provides protection for 24 hours. Read the directions before use to ensure you’re using it correctly. Each sponge can only be used once. The sponge may be more effective than other spermicide products, with about a 9 to 11 percent failure rate.

It’s recommended to wait at least 6 hours after the last time having intercourse before removing. The maximum time a sponge can remain in the vagina is 30 hours.

Vaginal Contraceptive Films

Vaginal contraceptive films are a thin sheet, similar to wax paper. When inserted into the vagina, the film begins to dissolve and mix with vaginal fluids, forming a thick gel consistency. It’s recommended to place the film as close to the cervix as possible.

Vaginal films should be placed at least 15 minutes before sexual intercourse to allow time for the product to dissolve and form the gel. How long the film is effective may vary between different brands.

Spermicidal Jellies

Spermicidal jellies are often used along with diaphragms or cervical caps. The jelly acts as lube and an added layer of protection in case any sperm manages to get around the barrier of a diaphragm or cervical cap. Spermicidal jellies usually come in a tube. The product comes with an applicator to insert the jelly as close to the cervix as possible. After use, simply wash the applicator, and allow it to dry before the next use.

The jelly is effective immediately and lasts about 1 hour. When used with a diaphragm, it may be effective for up to 6 hours.

Contraceptive Gels

A contraceptive gel is an easy-to-use birth control option that also provides lubrication. Typically, the gel is inserted while lying down. The applicator is placed deep into the vagina, as close to the cervix as possible.

Spermicide Suppositories

Spermicide suppositories come in a bullet shaped solid. Once placed into the vagina, the suppository dissolves into a foam texture. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for spermicide suppositories to become effective.

Want to Know More?

Compiled using information from the following sources:

1. Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. (n.d.). Choosing a method of birth control: Spermicides.