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Medically reviewed by: Lonna P. Gordon, MD

What Is Spermicide?

Spermicides contain chemicals to stop sperm from getting to an egg. They come in several different forms: cream, gel, foam, film, and suppositories. Spermicides should be used with another birth control method, such as condoms or a diaphragm. They be used alone but are not very effective that way.

How Does Spermicide Work?

Spermicides block the cervix (the opening to the uterus) and slow sperm down to make it harder for them to swim to an egg. In order to work, the spermicide must be placed deep in the vagina close to the cervix. Creams, gels, and foams are squirted into the vagina using an applicator. Other types of spermicides include vaginal contraceptive film (VCF), a thin sheet placed in the back of vagina by hand, and vaginal suppositories.

Spermicides must be placed in the vagina before sexual intercourse. The instructions will say how long before sex the spermicide should be used. Most must be placed in the vagina at least 10 to 15 minutes before sex so they have enough time to dissolve and spread.

Many forms of spermicides are effective for only 1 hour after they are inserted. More spermicide should be used if more than 1 hour passes before sex, or if a couple is going to have sex again. A girl shouldn't douche for at least 6 hours after a couple has sex using spermicide as birth control.

How Well Does Spermicide Work to Prevent Pregnancy?

Over the course of a year, about 28 out of 100 typical couples who use spermicide will have an accidental pregnancy.

Spermicides are not as effective on their own as many other types of birth control and work best when used with another form of birth control.

Does Spermicide Help Prevent STDs?

No. Spermicide does not protect against STDs. Couples having sex must always use condoms to protect against STDs.

Are There Any Side Effects With Spermicide?

Spermicides may irritate the vagina and surrounding skin. This irritation may make it easier to become infected with STDs like HIV. Those who use spermicide may be more likely to develop urinary tract infections.

Who Can Use Spermicide?

Spermicide may be a good birth control option for couples who can plan in advance of having sex and who want extra protection when they use condoms or other barrier methods of contraception.

Where Is Spermicide Available?

Spermicides are available without a prescription in drugstores and some supermarkets. (In some stores, they're in the "Family Planning" aisle.) They're often found near the condoms and feminine hygiene products.

Take care when choosing a spermicide — the packages may look like those of some feminine hygiene products, such as douches or washes, which don't provide any birth control protection.

How Much Does Spermicide Cost?

Depending on the type of spermicide chosen (film is more expensive than gel), spermicide costs about $0.60 to $3 per use.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Someone who uses spermicide should call the doctor if they:

  • might be pregnant
  • have a change in the smell or color of her vaginal discharge
  • develop a rash around the vagina
  • have pain when peeing or needs to pee often
  • have unexplained fever or chills
  • have belly or pelvic pain
  • have pain during sex
Medically reviewed by: Lonna P. Gordon, MD
Date reviewed: January 2022