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Spermicides are chemical products inserted in a woman's vagina before sex that inactivate or kill sperm. The main chemicals used in spermicides are nonoxynol-9, octoxynol-9, menfegol, and benzalkonium chloride. Of these, nonoxynol-9 is the most common. Spermicides often are used as a temporary method while waiting for a long-term method or by couples who have intercourse infrequently. Many breastfeeding women who need contraception use spermicides since they increase vaginal lubrication, can be used immediately after childbirth, and have no hormonal side effects. Spermicides have a protective effect against many STDs, particularly bacterial STDs. When used alone, spermicides provide some contraceptive protection, but are best when used with a barrier method to prevent pregnancy. Spermicides should not be used for protection against HIV transmission; results from the XIII International AIDS Conference, for example, indicated that nonoxynol-9 was significantly less effective in preventing transmission of HIV compared to an inactive placebo gel. Spermicides come in several different forms--cream, jelly (gels), melting suppository, foaming tablet, aerosol foam and C-film. Some condoms also come lubricated with spermicide. Characteristics of spermicides are highlighted below.


20 to 25% failure rate (typical use) in the first year of use. Efficacy is improved if spermicides are used in conjunction with mechanical barrier methods, most commonly condom, diaphragm, cervical cap

Age limitations         

No restrictions on age

Parity limitations

No restrictions on use

Mode of action

Spermicides destroy or immobilize sperm

Effect on STD risk

Somewhat protective; using spermicides alone is not recommended for HIV protection

Drug interaction


Duration of use

Used at or near the time of intercourse; appropriate for both short-term and long-term use; women can use spermicides throughout their reproductive years

Return to fertility

Immediately upon discontinuation

Return to Contraceptive Method List

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