Font Size

Birth Control Spermicides (cont.)

Benefits and Drawbacks of Spermicides

Patient Comments


Spermicides are not as effective as many other birth control methods, such as birth control pills or intrauterine devices (IUDs). How well spermicides prevent pregnancy when used alone is not certain. However, the FDA cites failure rates for typical users from 20-50%. 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. Women can use spermicides without involving their partners in the decision if they wish. When used with a condom, they are very effective. Spermicides may provide additional lubrication during intercourse.


Some spermicides may be inconvenient, as they often require a waiting period of several minutes before they are effective. A woman must plan ahead and keep a supply available. The spermicide must be reapplied before each act of intercourse. Some women report messiness and leakage. 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.

Women who should not use spermicides

Any woman with a history of toxic shock syndrome should not insert anything in the vagina that remains there for any length of time, including tampons, diaphragms, or sponges.

For More Information

Planned Parenthood, Spermicide

Medically reviewed by Steven Nelson, MD; Board Certified Obstetrics and Gynecology


"Overview of contraception"

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/19/2016
Medical Author:
Medical Editor:
Medical Editor:
Medical Editor:

Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Birth Control Spermicides:

Birth Control Spermicide - Patient Experience

Have you used spermicide as a method of birth control? Tell us whether it was effective.

Birth Control Spermicides - Benefits and Drawbacks

Tell us about the benefits and drawbacks of using spermicide as a method of birth control.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Contraception »

The practice of contraception is as old as human existence.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

Medical Dictionary