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Spermicide is a type of contraceptive (birth control) available over the counter. It prevents pregnancy by killing sperm or preventing it from reaching the egg. Typically, spermicide is inserted into the vagina before sex.

Generally, it’s best to use spermicide along with another type of contraceptive, because it’s a less effective method. Spermicide doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so using it along with condoms helps protect against STIs and lower the chances for pregnancy.

Several forms of spermicide are available. This article covers more about how spermicide works, its effectiveness, and our picks for the best six contraceptives with spermicide.

Spermicide is a chemical you put deep in the vagina before having sex. Most spermicide products contain the active ingredient called nonoxynol-9. This ingredient prevents pregnancy by either blocking the cervix or killing sperm.

The types of spermicide products work in slightly different ways. Some mix with vaginal fluid to form a thicker gel to block the cervix, while other forms focus on preventing the sperm from moving.

Nonoxynol-9 damages the cell membrane of sperm, interfering with the sperm’s ability to move and effectively killing the sperm.

Spermicide is considered a safe and semi-effective contraceptive method. Still, there’s a risk for side effects, such as allergic reaction and skin irritation.

There may be a higher risk of getting an STI, like HIV, from irritated skin in the vagina or rectal area.

Spermicide is one of the less effective birth control methods when used by itself. It’s about 72 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.

That means about 28 out of every 100 people who use spermicide as their sole contraceptive method will become pregnant each year.

How effective spermicide is largely depends on if it’s properly used. Be sure to read and follow the directions to maximize the product’s effectiveness.

Some types of spermicide are effective immediately, while other products may take 15 to 30 minutes to activate. Also, some types may stop being effective around an hour after use.

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right spermicide product for your needs. To select the best, we reviewed:

  • research
  • customer experiences
  • cost
  • health claims

Spermicide condoms

Using condoms coated with spermicide is an excellent option to increase the effectiveness for preventing pregnancy and STIs with just one product. It may be more convenient to use a condom with added spermicide instead of using spermicide plus another barrier contraceptive method.

Using spermicide and condoms together are about 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy and STIs when used perfectly and depending on the type of spermicide.

The cost for this option will vary depending on the brand.

Vaginal contraceptive films

Vaginal contraceptive films are a thin sheet, similar to wax paper. When inserted into the vagina, the film begins to dissolve and mix with vaginal fluids, forming a thick gel consistency.

It’s recommended to place the film as close to the cervix as possible.

Vaginal films should be placed at least 15 minutes before sexual intercourse to allow time for the product to dissolve and form the gel. How long the film is effective may vary between different brands.

Spermicidal jellies

Spermicidal jellies are often used along with diaphragms or cervical caps. The jelly acts as lube and an added layer of protection in case any sperm manages to get around the barrier of a diaphragm or cervical cap.

Spermicidal jellies usually come in a tube. The product comes with an applicator to insert the jelly as close to the cervix as possible. After use, simply wash the applicator, and allow it to dry before the next use.

The jelly is effective immediately and lasts about 1 hour. When used with a diaphragm, it may be effective for up to 6 hours.

Contraceptive gels

A contraceptive gel is an easy-to-use birth control option that also provides lubrication. Typically, the gel is inserted while lying down. The applicator is placed deep into the vagina, as close to the cervix as possible.

Spermicide suppositories

Spermicide suppositories come in a bullet shaped solid. Once placed into the vagina, the suppository dissolves into a foam texture. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for spermicide suppositories to become effective.

Vaginal contraceptive sponge

A vaginal contraceptive sponge is made of a soft foam with added spermicide. The product is effective immediately after insertion and provides protection for 24 hours. Read the directions before use to ensure you’re using it correctly.

It’s recommended to wait at least 6 hours after the last time having intercourse before removing. The maximum time a sponge can remain in the vagina is 30 hours.

Each sponge can only be used once. The sponge may be more effective than other spermicide products, with about a 9 to 11 percent failure rate.

Timing is the most important part of using a spermicide product.

Most spermicides are only effective for a specific window of time. Some products take around 15 minutes to become fully effective, and many only remain effective for about 1 hour after being inserted into the vagina.

The window of time when spermicide is effective changes from product to product, so read the directions before use.

Spermicide is fairly easy to use, and many products may feel similar to putting a tampon in. Some products come with an applicator to insert the product. For other products, you simply use your fingers to apply the spermicide.

Other contraceptive methods, like condoms, cervical caps, and diaphragms, can be used with spermicide products to decrease the chances of becoming pregnant. It’s recommended to use a condom to help prevent STIs.

How effective is spermicide?

Spermicide is about 78 percent effective when used perfectly. This means about 28 out of 100 people will become pregnant each year when using spermicide as their only contraceptive method.

Does spermicide protect against STIs?

Spermicide alone doesn’t protect against STIs. Some research suggests frequent spermicide use may increase the risk for transmitting some STIs, like HIV.

Are there any side effects?

Spermicide use may lead to allergic reactions and skin irritation. Side effects are more common in people who use spermicide multiple times a day.

Spermicide is a type of contraceptive that works by stopping sperm from moving easily through the vagina and cervix. It’s one of the less effective types of birth control and has about a 28 percent failure rate. Spermicide alone doesn’t protect against STIs.

Spermicide comes in multiple forms like gel, film, jelly, and suppository tablets, and is added to sponges and spermicide condoms.

It may be recommended to use spermicide along with a barrier method, like condoms, to better protect against pregnancy and STIs.

If you have any questions about your contraceptive options, reach out to a healthcare professional.

Ashley Braun, MPH, RD, is a health and wellness writer based in Michigan. Her work helps people understand what affects their health, so they can make informed choices to take back the control in their health and wellness journey.