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Sexual and Reproductive Health

Vaginal spermicides

​What are vaginal spermicides?

Vaginal spermicides are put in the vagina before sex to help prevent pregnancy. They contain an ingredient (nonoxynol-9) that kills sperm. 

In Canada, spermicides come as film or foam. Spermicidal gel is not available. Spermicides are considered to be among the least effective of all birth control methods.

Lactic acid buffering gel is available in Canada. However, it is not as effective as nonoxynol-9. Lactic acid buffering gel is different than the spermicides described here. ​

How well do vaginal spermicides work?

  • With typical use (this means not following the exact directions) vaginal spermicides are 72% effective.
  • With perfect use (this means you follow the exact directions all the time) vaginal spermicides are 82% effective.
  • Spermicides work best to prevent pregnancy when used with another form of birth control (like condoms).
  • Spermicides don't protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV.
  • Spermicides have a high failure rate.

Think about getting emergency contraception to help prevent pregnancy if:

  • you didn't use the spermicide correctly or with a barrier method
  • pregnancy would be hard for you​​

How do I use vaginal spermicides?

  • Always use vaginal spermicides with another form of birth control (like condoms).
  • Always use the right amount of spermicide (see package directions).
  • Before using a spermicide, check the expiry date on the package. Don’t use products that are expired.
  • Put the spermicide up high in the vagina to cover the cervix.
  • With some spermicide products, you have to wait before you have sex (see package directions).​​
  • You have to put spermicide in each time you have sex.
  • When using with a diaphragm or cervical cap, keep in place for at least 6 hours after sex.
  • Don’t rinse or douche for at least 6 hours after having sex (douching is not ever recommended).
  • If you have questions about spermicides, talk to your pharmacist or healthcare provider.

What are the benefits of vaginal spermicides?

  • Anyone can buy spermicides; you don’t need a prescription.
  • Spermicides don’t contain hormones, so they are good for people who can’t use hormonal methods of birth control.
  • Vaginal spermicides give you extra lubrication.

What are the disadvantages of spermicides?

Vaginal spermicides may:

  • irritate you or your partners' genitals (including itchiness, redness, or pain)
  • increase the risk of HIV for people who are at high risk
  • increase the risk of bladder or vaginal infections
  • be messy to use​

Think about getting emergency contraception to help prevent pregnancy if:

  • you did not use the spermicide correctly​
  • you did not use another form of birth control with spermicide
  • your other method of birth control failed (like if the condom breaks)

What else is important to know about consent, sexual activity, and birth control?

  • You have the right to decide to have sex or not. Talk with your partner or partners about consent.
  • There’s an 85% chance of becoming pregnant within one year, if no birth control is used for vaginal sex.
  • Use a condom or barrier every time you have sex (oral, vaginal, anal). Condoms help prevent pregnancy, STIs, and HIV.
  • You can lower your risk of HIV by taking an HIV prevention pill every day. Many Albertans can get it for free. Visit HIV PrEP to find out more.
  • Transgender and gender diverse people who have a uterus can use hormonal birth control. It can help prevent pregnancy and make periods lighter and less painful.

Where can I find more information?

If you have questions, need to find a sexual health clinic near you, or want more information, call Health Link at 811 anytime, day or night, to talk to a registered nurse.

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