Contraception: Spermicides

Spermicides are products that are used in combination with other barrier methods of contraception, such as a condom, diaphragm or cervical cap. They are not effective if used alone. Spermicides are available in various forms, including creams, foams, gels and pessaries.

How do they work?

The main ingredient in spermicides is nonoxinol-9. This chemical kills sperm in the vagina. It also changes the pH balance of the vagina making it inhospitable to sperm. Spermicides are often put directly onto the additional barrier. Pessaries can be inserted directly into the vagina when using condoms. They are also used to provide additional protection during the time that a diaphragm needs to be left in place, ie, for at least six hours following intercourse.

What are the advantages of spermicides?

Spermicides enhance the effect of barrier methods of contraception, such as diaphragms and cervical caps. They are simple to use and may provide additional lubrication.

What are the disadvantages of spermicides?

They cannot be used alone as a contraceptive measure except in rare cases, for example, around the time of the menopause. They should not be used alone unless advised by a medical practitioner.

Spermicides may cause some irritation or sensitivity although allergy is rare. Changing to another product may prevent recurrence of the irritation.

What are the different types of spermicides available?

Various forms of spermicides are available under different brand names. They can all be purchased over the counter and are often given out at sexual health clinics.

Fact sheet provided by MIMS

Date last reviewed: September 2016

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