What are Spermicides?

Spermicides come in many different forms, such as foams, jellies, creams, suppositories, and films, and they work by killing sperm after they have been inserted into the vagina. Spermicides are designed to cover the vaginal walls, as well as the opening to the cervix, after being inserted in the vagina. Different types of spermicides dissolve differently and vary in the amount of time they take to dissolve.

Types of Spermicides:

Foams, Jellies, and Creams: These types of spermicides resemble shaving cream and come with an applicator. They can be used alone, or with a condom, diaphragm or cervical cap.

Suppositories: These spermicides are small and round objects which you should insert into the vagina about 10 to 15 minutes before intercourse, depending on the product. Because they come in a solid form they are easier and less messy to use than foams, jellies, and creams.

Films: Films, such as VCF, resemble small, square sheets of paper. One has to be inserted near the cervix 10 to 15 minutes before intercourse so that it has an opportunity to melt properly. When melted, the spermicide covers the vaginal walls with a gel-like substance.


How to Use:

Usage instructions vary depending on the specific type of spermicide used.  Generally the woman will lie down and insert the spermicide deep inside their vagina using an applicator or their fingers. Most spermicides require that the user wait at least 10 minutes after application before having intercourse. This is especially important for suppositories and films because they must melt before they become effective.

After application, spermicides will be effective for only one hour.

It is important not to remove the spermicide for at least 6 hours after intercourse. If the vagina is washed out too early, they may still be some sperm that was not killed by the spermicide, increasing the risk of pregnancy.


How Effective are Spermicides?

Spermicides have a perfect use failure rate of 15% and a typical use failure rate of 29%. Thus, spermicides are not very effective when used alone. It is generally recommended that spermicides be used in conjunction with another method of contraception such as condoms to decrease the failure rate.



The active ingredient in most spermicides is the chemical nonoxynol-9. Nonoxynol-9 has been shown to irritate the vaginal wall and cause lesions, which facilitate the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV and HPV. For this reason spermicides are not recommended for use outside of monogamous relationships.



  • Foams: $8
  • Jellies or creams: $8
  • Suppositories: 12 for $6
  • Film: 12 sheets for $10


Spermicides are available at most drugstores, supermarkets and family planning clinics.


  • They can be purchased over the counter.
  • They are a very effective form of contraception when used with another barrier method, such as condoms.
  • They are fairly inexpensive.
  • They can provide lubrication.
  • You can stop using them whenever you want.


  • They can interrupt spontaneity.
  • They can be messy (especially the foams, jellies, and creams).
  • Oral sex may not be as enjoyable because of the spermicide's taste.
  • Can cause irritation of the genitals
  • No STI prevention
  • Increased risk of contracting STIs (especially HIV and HPV)

Spermicides May Be Right For You If…

  • You are not able to use other methods of birth control for medical reasons.
  • You are concerned about side effects.
  • You don't want an ongoing method of birth control.
  • You have just delivered a baby or had an abortion.

Spermicides Are Not Right For You If...

  • You are not able to insert them properly.
  • You want a very effective form of contraception.
  • You or your partner is allergic to spermicides.
  • You are not in a monogamous relationship




LeVay, Simon, Janice I. Baldwin, and John D. Baldwin. Discovering Human Sexuality.

Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2009.

Planned Parenthood- Spermicide


Nonoxynol-9 for preventing vaginal acquisition of HIV infection by women from men.

WHO Reproductive Health Library, 2003


Last Updated: 29 Oct 2014


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