Learning About Birth Control: Spermicide

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What is spermicide?

Spermicide is used to prevent pregnancy. It kills sperm or stops sperm from moving. For it to work well, you must use spermicide each time you have sexual intercourse.

Spermicide comes in creams, film, foams, gels, and suppositories. You insert the spermicide into your vagina. Spermicide can be used alone but it is usually used with a barrier method of birth control, such as a male condom.

How well does it work?

Spermicide used alone does not protect you very well. But even if you use it on its own, it is still better than not using any birth control.

In the first year of use:

  • When spermicide is used exactly as directed, 18 women out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy. When it is not used exactly as directed, 28 women out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy.
  • When spermicide is used with another type of birth control, it works better. For example, when spermicide and a diaphragm are used exactly as directed, 6 women out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy. When they are not used exactly as directed, 12 women out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy.

Be sure to tell your doctor about any health problems you have or medicines you take. He or she can help you choose the birth control method that is right for you.

What are the advantages?

  • Spermicide doesn't use hormones. So you can use it if you don't want to take hormones or can't take hormones.
  • It is available without a prescription. You can buy it at family planning clinics, drugstores, online, and in some grocery stores.
  • It is safe to use while breastfeeding.
  • It doesn't affect your menstrual cycle.
  • It costs less than hormonal types of birth control.

What are the disadvantages?

  • Spermicide doesn't prevent pregnancy as well as other forms of birth control.
  • It prevents pregnancy only if you use it every time you have sex.
  • Spermicide may cause an allergic reaction. It can cause itching or sores in the vagina or on the penis.
  • Spermicide doesn't protect against STIs. These are sexually transmitted infections such as herpes or HIV. Use a condom if you're not sure if your sex partner might have an STI.
  • You may have to interrupt sex to insert the spermicide.
  • You may not feel good about using spermicide each time you have sex.
  • You may find it messy to use.

How do you use spermicide?

Spermicide comes in many different forms. Be sure to read the instructions that come with it.

  • Some spermicides come with an applicator. Use it to insert the spermicide right before sex.
  • If you're using film or suppositories, wait at least 15 minutes before you have sex. This allows the spermicide to spread in the vagina.
  • Use 1 application of spermicide for each act of sexual intercourse.
  • Don't douche for at least 8 hours after sex. Give the spermicide time to work to prevent pregnancy.

NOTE: If you think you used spermicide incorrectly, you can use emergency contraception. One example is the morning-after pill (Plan B). You can use emergency contraception for up to 5 days after you had sex. But it works best if you take it right away.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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