Spermicides

Average Failure Rate: 26%

Spermicides are chemicals that are placed in the vagina before having intercourse. Spermicides prevent pregnancy by killing sperm so that none can reach and fertilize an egg. Scientific studies of spermicides show failure rates ranging from zero to 50% for typical users. The form and potency of the spermicide may be a factor, as gels may be more effective than films or suppositories.

Spermicide Use

Spermicides may be used alone, but are most effective when used in conjunction with another method. For effective contraception, correct timing and placement are extremely important. The spermicide must be used every time intercourse occurs and before the penis is placed anywhere near the vagina.

All spermicides must be reapplied if intercourse is repeated. Spermicides have been known to cause allergy and irritation in many women. Some benefits of spermicides are that they may be purchased without a prescription, cost relatively little, and may guard against some types of infection. However, spermicides do increase the risk of painful urinary tract infections in women and sexually transmitted infection.

WARNING: Spermicides containing Nonoxynol-9 (N-9) were once thought to help prevent HIV infection, but newer studies show that using spermicides put women at a higher risk of HIV infection [more].

Why an HIV/AIDS Risk? Spermicides like N-9 are basically a detergent, an indiscriminate killer of cells. N-9 kills both HIV cells and the protective cells that line the cervix — the main site for HIV infection. The cervix then becomes irritated from the N-9; the immune system in turn sends antibodies to the site of the irritation. HIV attacks the antibodies in the cervix and then proceeds to invade the body. Consequently, spermicides are no longer being recommended for HIV prevention. Unfortunately, all sperimicides on the market today contain Nonoxynol-9, although new spermicides and microbicides are under development [more].

Types of Spermicide

Spermicides are available in several forms:

  • Spermicidal creams and jellies: Spermicidal creams and jellies are designed to be used with a cervical barriers, such as a diaphragm or cervical cap, but they can be used alone by inserting the spermicide directly into the vagina with a special applicator. One advantage of creams and jellies is that they can also be used for added vaginal lubrication, often needed with unlubricated condoms.
  • Contraceptive foams: These come in a small can with a plunger-type applicator, and are inserted in the same way as many creams and jellies, directly into the vagina.
  • Spermicidal suppositories: These are small, waxy tablets that are inserted into the vagina by hand or with an applicator. It is important to wait 10-15 minutes for the suppository to completely dissolve before intercourse.
  • Contraceptive film: These are thin spermicidal squares, placed over the cervix before intercourse. These are not as messy as creams, jellies, or foams, and the film dissolves completely in the vagina. Like the suppositories, it takes 15 minutes for the film to dissolve before it is completely effective.

Many condoms can be purchased that are already treated with spermicide. The contraceptive sponge is also pre-treated with a foamy spermicide.

Related Articles

The following links are provided as an informational resource or counterpoint and are not necessarily endorsed by the author:

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