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Quick Facts

Effectiveness in Preventing Pregnancy

  • Of 100 women each year who use spermicides alone for birth control, about 28 may become pregnant.
  • The risk of pregnancy is much greater in women who do not use spermicides correctly and consistently.
Use up to one hour before sex.No STD protection.No office visit or prescription required.

What is spermicide?

Spermicides are chemicals that prevent pregnancy by killing sperm. The only chemical available in spermicides in the United States is nonoxynol-9 (N-9). Spermicides containing N-9 are available as a cream, foam, jelly, tablet, suppository, or film.

How do I use it?

The spermicide is put deeply inside the vagina and works to prevent pregnancy by stopping and killing sperm before they can reach an egg and fertilize it. Instructions can be different for each type of spermicide, so read the label carefully before use.

Spermicide can be inserted/used up to one hour before having sex. The spermicide should remain in the vagina at least six hours after sex. Do not rinse or douche the vagina during this time.

How effective is it?

Of 100 women each year who use spermicides alone for birth control, about 28 may become pregnant. Effectiveness varies. For better pregnancy protection, a spermicide should be used with a condom, diaphragm, or cervical cap.

How do I get it?

You do not need a prescription or personal identification to buy spermicide. Spermicide is available at pharmacies, clinics, and some grocery stores.

Advantages of using spermicide

  • Spermicide is simple to use and available without a prescription.
  • You can insert it/use up to one hour before having sex.

Drawbacks of using spermicide

  • Spermicide does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV. Always use a condom to reduce the risk of STDs.
  • Some women may experience irritation, an allergic reaction, or develop a urinary tract infection (UTI, cystitis).
  • It may not work as well if you are also using medication for a vaginal yeast infection.
  • It contains N-9, which can irritate the vagina and rectum. This may increase the risk of getting the HIV/AIDS virus from an infected partner.
Content created by Office of Population Affairs
Content last reviewed on May 20, 2019