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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Spermicides


Spermicides are chemicals placed in the vagina to kill sperm. They are used as a form of birth control.


Spermicides help prevent pregnancy. They damage and kill sperm that are placed in the woman's vagina during intercourse. They also block sperm from going into the cervical canal, or opening to the uterus. They start working when they are put in the vagina. Spermicides keep working for 6 to 8 hours after they are inserted.

Spermicides in the United States may contain nonoxynol-9 or octoxynol-9. When are used alone for birth control, they have a 21% failure rate. They are more effective with a diaphragm or condom. Spermicides come in many forms, including foams, jellies, tablets, and suppositories. There are many other forms of birth control that are more effective than using spermicides alone. These include:

  • diaphragms
  • female condoms
  • intrauterine devices, or IUDs
  • male condoms
  • oral contraceptives
  • Spermicides are less effective if they are used improperly. Here are some important considerations.

  • Do not use a vaginal douche for at least 6 to 8 hours after using spermicide. Douching, even with water, can rinse the spermicide out of the vagina before it has killed all the sperm.
  • Washing or rinsing the vaginal or rectal area can make the spermicide ineffective against sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs.
  • Follow the package instructions carefully. Be sure that the spermicide is inserted deep into the vagina.
  • Use another application of the spermicide for each episode of intercourse.
  • Wait the recommended amount of time between application of the spermicide and intercourse.
  • When using spermicide with another birth control device, make sure the package states that it is safe to use with the selected device.
  • Keep the spermicide container away from heat, cold, direct light, and moisture. Do not store it in the refrigerator, bathroom, or other damp spots.
  • Don't use outdated spermicide. Throw it away when it's past the expiration date on the package.
  • Research in laboratories has shown that nonoxynol-9 kills or stops the growth of some of the organisms that cause STDs. However, there are not yet any studies that prove spermicides prevent STDs in humans. Some experts do believe that using spermicides on a condom or inserting them into the vagina can kill organisms before they can cause an STD in the woman. The organisms that were affected in the lab studies include those that cause the following STDs:

  • AIDS, or HIV
  • chlamydia
  • genital herpes
  • gonorrhea
  • oral herpes
  • syphilis
  • trichomoniasis
  • It is still best to use condoms if you are at risk for STDs.

    Sometimes women and men develop allergic reactions to the spermicide. These symptoms include irritation and burning with use. It may be helpful to use another spermicide that has a lower percentage of the medicine in it. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.

    Author: Eva Martin, MD
    Reviewer: Melissa Sanders, PharmD
    Date Reviewed: 07/05/01

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