Types of Birth Control Methods: Spermicide

By Freedman, Megan

Spermicides are hormone-free chemicals that can prevent pregnancy when you use them correctly. When you use spermicide alone, it is only 71% to 85% effective at preventing pregnancy. To make spermicide more effective, many people use spermicide with other forms of birth control, such as condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps.

How Does Spermicide Prevent Pregnancy?

Sperm move from the vagina into the uterus and fallopian tubes to fertilize a woman’s egg around the time of ovulation. Most spermicides contain nonoxynol-9, a chemical that stops sperm from moving beyond the vagina. This decreases the number of sperm available to fertilize the egg and reduces your chance of becoming pregnant. However, spermicide used alone has a failure rate of one in four. This means that you can become pregnant one out of four times you have vaginal sex during your most fertile period of the month. In general, the most fertile period begins about the seventh day after the start of your menstrual period and lasts five to seven days.

How Do I Use Spermicide?

Spermicides come in liquids, gels, foams, creams, suppositories and films. How you use it will depend on the kind that you buy. Before using your spermicide, read the instructions carefully.

  • Liquid, foam, gel and cream spermicides usually come with an applicator similar to a tampon applicator. You use the applicator to insert the spermicide deep into your vagina near your cervix.

  • Film spermicide is inserted into your vagina with your fingers.

You can insert the spermicide 30 minutes to an hour before having sex. With most types of spermicide you need to wait 15 minutes after you put it in to have sex. You must insert more spermicide every time you have sex. You don’t need to wash out the spermicide. It will gradually seep out of your vagina on its own.

Spermicide is more effective when you use it with a condom or cervical cap. Both of these are barrier methods of birth control.

Where Can I Get Spermicide?

You can buy spermicide at grocery stores, drugstores, and health clinics without a prescription. Spermicide cost $7 to $18, or about $1 to $2 per use.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Spermicide

Spermicide, when used excessively or for a long time, can irritate your genitals. This can increase your risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as HIV. To reduce the risk of STDs, use a condom every time you have sex. Other side effects of spermicide may include:

  • Less enjoyable sex

  • Wet or sticky vagina

  • Urinary tract infections

Unlike hormone-based birth control, spermicide won’t affect your long-term fertility. However, spermicide, when used alone, is one of the least effective forms of birth control.

There are many birth control options. Talk to your healthcare provider about your needs and together you can decide if spermicide is right for you.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Dec. 15, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2013 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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Unintended pregnancies account for almost half of all pregnancies in the United States.