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What are spermicides?

Spermicides are chemical products inserted in a woman's vagina before sex to prevent pregnancy. The main chemicals used in spermicides are nonoxynol-9, although octoxynol-9, menfegol, and benzalkonium chloride are also used. 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 come in several different forms — cream, jelly (gels), melting suppository, foaming tablet, aerosol foam, and C-film. Contraceptive sponges and some condoms come pre-treated with spermicide.

How do spermicides work?

Spermicides inactivate or kill sperm. They can be used for up to one hour but more must be used if sex lasts longer. Spermicides also physically block the sperm from getting to the egg.


Annual Failure Rate

How effective are spermicides?

With typical use, the annual failure rate of spermicides is 28% when used alone, which one of the highest failure rates. This is why spermicides are typically used in conjunction with other methods, like the diaphragm, cervical cap, or condom.

Like most methods, spermicides are more effective when used by older, married women. The annual failure rates for married couples are 21%, for dating couples 33%, and cohabiting couples 42%. For teens, the annual failure rate is as high as 30-37%.

Side-effects and health risks of spermicides

The main side-effect of spermicides is irritation or allergic reactions due to abrasive ingredients. Usually the irritation will go away within 24 hours. If it lasts longer than that, see a doctor. Spermicides are not good protection against STDs as the irritation caused by the spermicide can actually create tiny breaks in the skin that can make it easier for HIV to enter.

Considerations for Christians about spermicides

Although spermicides can help prevent pregnancy, they are not extremely effective. Abstinence is more effective than spermicides and is the best method when people are in an unmarried relationship.

Like condoms, both male and female, spermicides are considered artificial contraception, and as such are not permissible for use by Roman Catholics. Most Protestant denominations, however, have no objections to using spermicides within marriage.

Related Links

Source for Failure Rates: N Ranjit, A Bankole, JE Darroch, S Singh, "Contraceptive Failure in the First Two Years of Use: Differences Across Socioeconomic Subgroups," Family Planning Perspectives, 2001, 33(1):19-27. (pdf)

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