Center for Young Women's Health




  • Spermicides prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from getting to the egg.
  • Spermicides alone do not protect against STIs and HIV - it's best to use with condoms.
  • You can have an allergic reaction to spermicides.


Spermicides are a type of vaginal barrier method. They prevent pregnancy by acting as a barrier to sperm so they can't reach and fertilize one of the eggs that your ovaries produce each month. If you decide to use a spermicide, you need to use it every time you have sexual intercourse. Make sure you wash your hands before you put any of these contraceptives into your vagina. Also, women who are allergic to nonoxynol-9 should not use any method that contains spermicide or works with spermicide. Women who are having frequent daily intercourse may increase their risk of getting HIV if they use spermicides because of vaginal irritation. Condoms are much more effective than spermicide at preventing pregnancy and STIs and HIV.


Out of 100 women using spermicides
Typical use: 28 women become pregnant 28 Pregnant Women
Perfect use: 18 women become pregnant 18 Pregnant Women

What are spermicides?

There are different forms of spermicides, including vaginal creams, foams, films, suppositories, and sponges. Spermicides work by forming a chemical barrier that either kills sperm or paralyzes them. So the sperm can’t pass through your cervix to fertilize the egg.


Spermicides can be used alone as a form of contraception, but they are much more effective when used with another type.


Where can I get spermicide?

You can get spermicide over-the-counter at drug stores. No prescription is needed. It costs between $0.50-$1.50 per use, and about $8 per package.


How effective is spermicide against pregnancy?

Spermicide alone is one of the less effective forms of contraception against pregnancy.


If women use spermicide every time they have sexual intercourse and follow instructions perfectly every time, it is 82% effective. This means that if 100 women use spermicide all the time and always use it correctly, 18 women will become pregnant in a year.


If women use spermicide, but not perfectly, it is 72% effective. This means that if 100 women use spermicide, 28 women or more will become pregnant in a year.


Does spermicide protect against STIs?

No. It is much better to use condoms for STI and HIV protection.


What kinds of spermicide are there and how do I use them?

Contraceptive foam, which is a spermicide in an aerosol form, is inserted deep into your vagina using a small applicator. Contraceptive cream or jelly can also be inserted deep into the vagina with a small applicator. Contraceptive creams or jellies are good to use with diaphragms and cervical caps. Follow the directions on the package. You should insert foams, creams, or jellies no more than 30-60 minutes before you have intercourse. You should wait several minutes after you insert them before you have intercourse.


The small, oval-shaped vaginal suppositories are placed deep in the vagina and release a contraceptive foam 10-15 minutes after you insert one. Because of this, you should not have intercourse until 15 minutes after insertion, so there is time for the foaming to occur.


A vaginal contraceptive film (VCF) is a 2-inch by 2-inch flat package with wax paper-like tissues, each containing the spermicide nonoxynol-9. You should put the film on a dry fingertip and insert it up into the vagina at least 15 minutes before you have intercourse.


The effectiveness of the spermicides usually lasts only for about an hour, so you will need to insert more if you are having sexual intercourse for more than an hour. Each time you have sexual intercourse, you should insert more spermicide into your vagina.


What about douching after intercourse?

Douching is not recommended after intercourse. There are no benefits and it is not safe because it can cause an increased risk in pelvic inflammatory disease, bacterial vaginosis (an infection of the vagina), and ectopic pregnancy (implantation of the fertilized egg outside of the uterus). Your body makes everything it needs to keep it clean. All you should be using to clean the outside of your vagina is water and soap. However, if you decide to douche in spite of this warning, you should wait at least 6 hours after intercourse so that the spermicide does not get washed away.


Are there any problems with spermicides?

Some women are allergic to spermicides, while others have some irritation in or around their vagina. You are more likely to get urinary tract infections. If you are having frequent daily intercourse, you may be more likely to get HIV.


What if I have problems with spermicides?

You should call your health care provider if you have any of the following:

Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 4/28/2014


Related Guides:

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Male Condoms

The male condom is a sheath worn over the penis during intercourse. It prevents pregnancy by acting as a barrier and preventing the man's semen from entering the woman's vagina...


Making Healthy Sexual Decisions

As a young adult, it's normal to think about sex, have sexual feelings, and have a desire to learn more about your own body. Deciding to have a sexual relationship is an important decision since it involves both your body and your emotions. You need to make sure that it is the right decision for you...

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