When it comes to birth control, it’s important to know all your options.
While hormonal methods like the pill are regularly talked about, there are other ways to prevent pregnancy. Vaginal contraceptive film, or VCF, is one of them.
But how do you use it? And how effective is it compared to the more popular types?
Here’s everything you need to know.
VCF is a square-shaped piece of film that contains a nonhormonal spermicide called nonoxynol-9.
You may have already heard of that, as it can be found in the likes of jellies and creams.
Once inserted into the vagina, VCF dissolves, releasing the spermicide.
VCF needs to be placed inside the vagina at least 15 minutes before penis-in-vagina sex in order to work.
That means it’s unable to reach the uterus and fertilize an egg. This process continues for up to 3 hours after insertion.
No birth control method is 100% effective. But if used correctly and consistently, VCF can be up to 94 percent effective, according to the company that makes it.
And if you use it alongside another birth control method, that’s said to rise to up to 99 percent.
However, research has found that spermicides are only 72 percent effective at protecting against pregnancy.
Even if people use them perfectly, 18 out of 100 people
If you’re having trouble with hormonal birth control, nonhormonal types such as VCF may be a more tolerable option.
However, you should be wary of using it if:
- You or your partner(s) have a spermicide allergy.
- You or your partner(s) have HIV, or are at high risk of contracting HIV.
- You have regular urinary tract infections (UTIs).
And if you’re at high risk of pregnancy or have been told by a healthcare professional that pregnancy could be dangerous for you, seek medical advice before choosing a form of birth control.
As VCF is small, portable, and discreet, it can be a pretty convenient way to prevent pregnancy.
It doesn’t require a prescription, so it’s more accessible, too. It also works pretty quickly, so you don’t need to plan ahead too much.
Plus, it’s relatively easy to use and doesn’t add any hormones to your body that could cause unwanted side effects.
Better yet, neither you nor your partner(s) should be able to feel it.
It’s possible to experience irritation with products containing the spermicide nonoxynol-9.
However, the manufacturer states that irritation is rare.
If you do experience any discomfort though, stop using VCF and see a doctor or other healthcare professional.
You can find VCF in most major stores with a family planning section. This includes Walmart, Target, CVS, and Walgreens.
Expect to pay around $10 for a pack of six or nine films.
Insertion is meant to be simple and pain-free.
All you need to do is remove the VCF from its pouch and fold it in half. If the film feels a little hard once out of its pouch, you can soften it by holding it between the palms of your hands for a few seconds.
Then, insert it into your vagina using one finger. It needs to be as close to your cervix as you can get it, so it’s probably easier to do this crouching, lying down, or standing with one leg on a chair.
Remember to insert a film at least 15 minutes before penis-in-vagina sex to give it enough time to dissolve. Once in, you or your partner(s) shouldn’t be able to feel anything.
VCF begins to dissolve as soon as it’s inside the vagina. But that can be difficult to check in the moment.
To increase its efficacy, it’s best to use VCF with another form of birth control, such as a condom.
Condoms can also help protect you and your partner(s) against STIs. VCF does *not* protect against STIs.
The manufacturer says it lasts for up to 3 hours after insertion or for a single bout of penis-in-vagina sex — whichever comes first.
So if ejaculation has occurred, you’ll need to insert a new film before having more P-in-V sex.
Just as it’s designed to be easy to insert, VCF is also fairly easy to remove.
In fact, you don’t need to do anything at all as the gel simply washes away with your bodily fluid.
VCF is a form of nonhormonal birth control to explore. Although it uses the tried and tested ingredient of spermicide, it’s designed to be easier to use than other spermicide methods.
However, it’s not as effective as hormonal types. So you may want to consider using condoms or other methods as an extra precaution.
Before you do anything, speak with a healthcare professional about the best birth control options for your body and lifestyle. Be sure to follow their instructions for the best chance of pregnancy prevention.
Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.