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Birth Control Overview (cont.)

What is the effectiveness, and what are the side effects of spermicides?

Spermicides are chemical barriers to conception. They are a reversible method of birth control in that when a woman ceases usage, full fertility returns immediately. Vaginal spermicides are available OTC, and are available in forms such as foam, cream, jelly, film, suppository, or tablet. Spermicides contain a chemical that kills sperm or makes them inactive so that they cannot enter a woman's cervix. Nonoxynol-9 is the active chemical in most spermicidal products in the United States.

  • Effectiveness: Spermicides are not as effective as many other forms of birth control when they are used alone. They are frequently are used with barrier methods of contraception, and they are much more effective when used in combination. When used in combination with a condom, they are very effective. Various sources list failure rates from 20%-50% for a typical first year of usage.
  • Pros: Spermicides usually do not affect other body systems.
  • Cons: Some spermicides may be inconvenient, as they often require a waiting period of several minutes before they become 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, but they include irritation, allergic reactions, and urinary tract infections.
  • STD protection: Spermicides were once thought to provide minimal protection against STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. However, this is no longer believed to be the case. 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 have their partner use a latex condom.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/26/2016
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