Woman's Health Centers

When Someone You Love Needs a Choice



Spermicides are chemicals that destroy sperm. Spermicides cannot be relied on to kill all sperm and therefore are considered less effective than other methods of birth control.

Spermicides can be purchased without a prescription, over the counter. They usually come in the form of a foam, jelly, or tablet and are inserted into the vagina 20-30 minutes before you have sex. If you engage in multiple instances of intercourse over several hours, you should use additional spermicide before each instance.

Often spermicide is used with an additional barrier method such as a diaphragm, sponge or other vaginally inserted devices. These barrier methods increase the effectiveness of the spermicide. Most healthcare providers do not recommend spermicides without also using a barrier method as the failure rate of spermicides when used alone is very high.

Spermicides can be purchased as:

  • Foams - these are in aerosol form. Foam is inserted into the vagina with a special applicator immediately before sex. Shake the container well (20 shakes), fill the applicator, lie down, insert the applicator into the vagina as far as possible, and push the plunger. This puts the foam at the cervix where it is designed to kill sperm before it reaches the uterus.
  • Vaginal Tablets - These are widely known as “pessaries”. These are solid bullet shaped tablets that have the appearance of a suppository. They must be inserted vaginally at least one half hour prior to sex as they require time to dissolve.
  • Gels - These types of spermicides are meant to be spread on diaphragms or caps that are then placed in the vagina.
  • Sponges - Sponges were very popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s but then fell out of favor. In 2005 they were re-introduced and patented in the US. They are once again gaining popularity, as they employ both a spermicide and a barrier method. The sponge is a soft round sponge that is placed over the cervical opening, and is removed after intercourse. Using the sponge during your period can increase the risk of toxic shock syndrome.

Most authorities agree that spermicides do not protect against infection and STDs. There is evidence that some spermicides are more effective than others, and that some can cause vaginal irritation. Various fragrances, colorings and other components in these chemicals may cause some women to experience allergic symptoms, such as swelling, redness, vaginal itching or discomfort. If you experience these symptoms, discontinue the use of the spemicide and consult with your healthcare provider.

Some things to remember:

  • Even if a man has not climaxed or ejaculated, sperm is always in his penis. You can get pregnant even before he ejaculates.
  • Always lie down to insert spermicides. If you walk around, or stand up before sex, the spermicide may not stay at the opening of the cervix.
  • Do not douche for 6-8 hours after intercourse as douching may weaken the effect of the spermicide, in fact, douching may cause sperm in the vaginal canal to be pushed up to the cervix faster. Most doctors’ recommend that women not douche at all. Douching alters the natural “good” bacteria in the vagina and may cause BV.