Questions about birth control? We've got answers.
Spermicide at a Glance
- A substance that prevents pregnancy by stopping sperm from moving
- Safe and convenient
- Easy to use
- Costs about $8 per package
Is Spermicide Right for Me?
Here are some of the most common questions we hear women ask about spermicide. We hope you find the answers helpful.
What Is Spermicide?
Spermicide is a birth control method that contains chemicals that stop sperm from moving. Spermicides are available in different forms, including creams, film, foams, gels, and suppositories.
Spermicide can be used alone, or it can be used with other birth control methods to make them more effective. It is always used with the diaphragm and cervical cap.
How Does Spermicide Work?
Spermicides prevent pregnancy by keeping sperm from joining with an egg. Spermicides are inserted deep into the vagina shortly before intercourse. They
- block the cervix, so sperm cannot reach an egg
- keep sperm from moving, so they cannot join with an egg
How Effective Is Spermicide?
Effectiveness is an important and common concern when choosing a birth control method.
Like all birth control methods, spermicide is more effective when you use it correctly.
- If women always use spermicide as directed, 15 out of 100 will become pregnant each year.
- If women don't always use spermicide as directed, 29 out of 100 will become pregnant each year.
When used alone, spermicide is not very effective. You can make it more effective if you also use a female condom.
Your partner can help you make spermicide more effective by using a latex condom or pulling out before ejaculation.
But even if you don't use another method along with spermicide, your chance of getting pregnant is much less than if you use no birth control at all.
Keep in mind that spermicide cannot reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections. Use latex or female condoms to reduce the risk of infection.
How Safe Is Spermicide?
Most women can use spermicide safely. Some people are allergic to spermicides or get skin irritations from them. If a spermicide irritates your vagina or your partner's penis, you might try changing brands.
What Are the Benefits of Spermicide?
Using spermicide is simple and convenient. Once you learn how, inserting the spermicide is easy. Women like spermicide because
- It can be carried in your pocket or purse.
- It can be inserted by a partner as part of sex play.
- It does not have an effect on a woman's natural hormones.
- It is very easy to get — in drugstores and some supermarkets.
- It does not require a prescription.
- It can be used during breastfeeding.
What Are the Disadvantages of Spermicide?
Spermicide has several disadvantages:
- If not used exactly as directed, spermicides may not form a good barrier over the cervix. This may make the spermicide less effective.
- Some women complain that spermicides are messy or that they leak from their vaginas.
- Spermicide may irritate the penis or vagina. Switching brands may solve this problem.
The most commonly used spermicide in the U.S. is called nonoxynol-9. Nonoxynol-9 has certain risks. If it is used many times a day, or if it is used by people at risk for HIV, it may irritate tissue and increase the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
How Do I Use Spermicide?
Each form of spermicide is used in a slightly different way. Be sure to read the instructions that are included in the packaging. Make sure you read and understand them before you use any of these products. If you do not use the spermicide as directed, it will be less effective.
In general, inserting spermicide is easy. You will lie down or squat, then gently insert the spermicide deep into your vagina using your fingers or an applicator.
For many types of contraceptive creams, film, foams, gels, and suppositories, you need to wait 10 minutes after you insert the spermicide before you can have intercourse. These methods typically remain effective for only one hour after insertion.
You need to insert more spermicide each time you have vaginal intercourse.
Women should not douche, unless they are told to by a health care provider. If you do douche, do not douche until 6-8 hours after intercourse.
How Do I Get Spermicide? How Much Does Spermicide Cost?
Spermicide is available at your local Planned Parenthood health center, other family planning clinics, drugstores, and some supermarkets.
Applicator kits of foam and gel cost about $8. Refills cost $4-$8. Large cans of foam contain between 20 and 40 applications. Film and suppositories are also about $8.
Planned Parenthood works to make health care accessible and affordable. Some health centers are able to charge according to income. Most accept health insurance. If you qualify, Medicaid or other state programs may lower your health care costs.
Call your local Planned Parenthood health center to get specific information on costs.
Find Dr. Cullins' Answers to Common Sexual Health Questions
Q&A with Dr. Cullins