Spermicide kills or disables sperm so that it cannot cause pregnancy. Spermicides come in many different forms: foam, gel, cream, film, suppository, sponge. Available in most drug stores and don’t require a prescription. Most work via the chemical nonoxynol-9. Most effective when used with a barrier method, like a condom or cervical cover. Spermicides are 72 percent effective as birth control. Used alone, they don’t protect against HIV/AIDS.
Spermicide can be used alone or with other birth control methods to reduce the risk of pregnancy. The lubrication it provides can increase pleasure. Many types need to be in at least 10 minutes before intercourse, but some start working immediately. Add more spermicide for repeated intercourse. Then after the last act of intercourse, leave your spermicide in your vagina for eight hours and don’t douche until after this time. Douching weakens spermicide.
Foam comes in a can and is the consistency of shaving cream. To use it, shake the can well. Place the applicator on the top of the can and press down or to the side, depending on the package directions. The plunger will rise as the applicator fills. Insert the applicator about two or three inches into your vagina and press the plunger to deposit the foam over your cervix. As you withdraw the applicator, be sure not to pull back on the plunger. This will suck some foam back into the applicator. It is effective immediately.
Cream or Gel
Creams are opaque and gels are clear. They can be inserted into the vagina with an applicator and/or rubbed over the penis. Cream or gel is typically used with a diaphragm or cervical cap. It can also be used with condoms and is effective immediately.
Vaginal Contraceptive Film (VCF)
VCF comes in thin squares that dissolve over the cervix. To use it, fold the film in half and then place it on the tip of your finger. Insert your finger into your vagina and put the VCF over your cervix. A dry finger and quick insertion will help the VCF stay in place and not stick to your finger. It may take about 15 minutes for the VCF to melt and become effective.
Suppositories are capsules that dissolve in the vagina. They’re inserted into the vagina like a tampon and pushed up to the cervix. It takes about twenty minutes for a suppository to become effective.
The sponge is a both a spermicide and a barrier method of birth control. As a barrier, it blocks sperm from entering the cervix and uterus, preventing fertilization. Most sponges are made out of polyurethane foam and are soft to the touch. To use, wet with a small amount of water and insert into the vagina with the dimple side facing up. Push the sponge up to the cervix, making certain that the cervix is completely covered. The sponge can be worn for up to 24 hours but must remain in place for six hours after intercourse to be effective as birth control. The sponge is less effective if you have given birth. The sponge should not be used while having your period.
- Available without a prescription.
- Lubrication may increase pleasure.
- Use can be part of sex play.
- Does not affect future fertility.
- Does not protect against HIV/AIDS.
- Must be readily available and used prior to penetration.
- Can be messy.
- Can have a bad taste during oral sex.
- Possible genital irritation.
- When used frequently, irritation of the vagina may make a woman more susceptible to HIV/STI carried by a man.
The vagina absorbs little spermicide. If you become pregnant while using spermicide, the pregnancy will not be affected.
Research indicates that spermicide increases the risk of HIV when used frequently. If you usually have intercourse more than once a day, spermicide is not recommended because Nonoxynol9 can weaken cell membranes allowing transmission of HIV and sexually transmitted infections from male to female.
You or your partner may be allergic to materials in spermicide. This can cause genital irritation, rash, or itchiness. If this happens and your spermicide has nonoxynol-9, try a spermicide without this chemical.
The cervix is the opening to the uterus where menstrual blood, babies, and sperm pass. It is also the opening through which abortions are performed. Spermicide and barrier methods of birth control, including the female condom, diaphragm, and cervical cap, work by covering the cervix and preventing sperm from entering the uterus. Hormonal methods of birth control, including oral contraceptive pills, Depo Provera shot, Implanon, Patch, and Ring affect the mucus around the cervix and make the opening more resistant to sperm.
Women’s bodies naturally produce hormones that change the cervix during a menstrual cycle. You can learn more about your cervix using a speculum to perform a self-exam. For instructions and a speculum, ask your clinician or visit www.FWHC.org.