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.
One application of spermicide is necessary for each act of
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.
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.
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
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
Failure rates for
barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control. Other
disadvantages include the following:
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.
May 3, 2012
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
& Femi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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