Birth Control Overview (cont.)
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Spermicides are chemical barriers to conception. They are a reversible method of birth control, meaning when a woman quits using them, full fertility returns. Vaginal spermicides are available in forms such as foam, cream, jelly, film, suppository, or tablet. Spermicides are not as effective as many other forms of birth control when used alone. They are often used with barrier methods of birth control, and are much more effective when used in this context.
Spermicides contain a chemical that kills sperm or makes them inactive so they cannot enter a woman’s cervix. Nonoxynol-9 is the active chemical in most spermicide products in the United States.Spermicides are not as effective as many other birth control methods, such as birth control pills or intrauterine devices (IUDs). Various sources list failure rates from 20-50% for a typical user in the first year. Spermicides are most effective when used with a barrier method, such as a condom.
Spermicides are available over the counter. They do not usually affect other systems in the body. When used with a condom, they are very effective.
Some spermicides may be inconvenient, as they often require a waiting period of several minutes before they are effective. The spermicide must be reapplied before each act of intercourse. Spermicides may irritate the vagina or penis. Switching brands may alleviate this problem. Serious medical risks are rare and include irritation, allergic reactions, and urinary tract infections.
Spermicides were once thought to provide minimal protection against STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. However, this is no longer believed to be true. In fact, irritation of the vaginal surface may increase susceptibility to some STDs, especially HIV, when the spermicide is used several times a day. Women who want to reduce the risk of STDs should always use a latex condom. See Birth Control Spermicides for more information.
Omnia M Samra, MD
Bryan D Cowan, MD
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
Lee P Shulman, MD
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