What is spermicide?
Substances known affectionately as spermicides – ‘cide’ meaning ‘to kill’, have been around for millennia. They stop sperm in their tracks effectively meaning they die before they can swim to fertilise an egg in the fallopian tubes. They do this by preventing entry to the cervix and reducing the motility of sperm.
Spermicide should be applied deep into the vagina before intercourse and come in a variety of forms including gels, foams and suppositories. While their effectiveness alone is 71% 1, when they are used in combination with other methods of contraception, such as barrier methods, their effectiveness is much higher, for example at 97% with condoms 2. Most use the chemical nonoxynol-9 and clinical reviews suggest that products with higher amounts of this active ingredient are more effective 3.
How do I use it?
Read the product instructions carefully. Insert the spermicide deep into your vagina using clean fingers or an applicator, much like you would with a tampon. Do this while you are in a comfortable position, including lying down or squatting.
The type of spermicide you use may influence how soon thereafter you can have sex. Foams, gels and creams are immediately effective whereas you will need to wait for 10-30 minutes for suppositories, films and tablets to dissolve. Spermicide is effective for up to one hour after application. You need to reapply spermicide each time before a sexual encounter. To ensure maximum effectiveness the spermicide should stay in your vagina up to 6 hours after having sex so avoid showering during this period.
What are the risks?
Local irritation in the vulva, vagina or penis is the most common issue and is usually temporary. The risk of a urinary tract infection (UTI) may be greater. Some individuals may develop an allergy.
Spermicide alone does not prevent contracting an STI or HIV. The FDA requires products to have this warning 4. Spermicide is best used with a barrier contraceptive. Because products can cause irritation of the skin, making it easier for pathogens to enter the body, frequent use by those who are at risk of STIs/HIV is not advised 5.
In the case of using spermicide with cervical caps and diaphragms, care must be taken. These barrier methods must be avoided during menstruation due to a risk of toxic shock syndrome. Alternatively, spermicide with condoms may be used during this period.
- No prescription required – can be bought over the counter
- Cheap - roughly $10 per pack
- Non-hormonal - lack of hormonal side effects
- No interruptions during sex - can integrate into foreplay
- Increases lubrication
- Can use while breastfeeding
- Each sexual encounter requires new spermicide
- Allergy risk
- Does not protect against STIs/HIV
- Not recommended for those at risk of getting HIV
- Not recommended for those at high risk of pregnancy - age less than 30/ those having sex multiple times per week
- Not recommended for those that have a UTI often
What spermicides are currently on the market?
Brands such as Advantage-S, Conceptrol and Crinone are available in the US. In addition to pharmacies and drugstores you can buy spermicide online.
Contrary to 1950s lore, douching with Cola after sex does not have any spermicidal properties. Not only is Cola an ineffective spermicide 6, but douching your vagina after sex is ineffective at preventing pregnancy and may increase harmful bacterial growth 7. So sip on your Cola instead as we take you through some last important pieces of advice.
Each type of birth control method will have its benefits, drawbacks and are usually not entirely failsafe. A top tip is to combine contraceptive methods to lower your chances of pregnancy. If you are unsure about your options, whether a medication is suitable for you or you develop a medical problem after using a product, speak to your doctor. Do not use medicine past the expiry date.
- Grimes DA et al. ‘Spermicide used alone for contraception’ Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Dec 5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24307556
- Cates W ; Harwood B . ‘Vaginal Barriers and Spermicides’. Contraceptive Technology 2011.
- Hong CY et al. ‘The Spermicidal Potency of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola’ Human & Experimental Toxicology 1987 Sept 1 https://doi.org/10.1177/096032718700600508