The Pros and Cons of Spermicidal Lubricant Condoms

Woman's hand holding condom with man in the background

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A spermicide is any compound that can be used to kill sperm. Spermicides are used in many contraceptives and come in several forms.

Contraceptive foams, creams, suppositories, and films all contain spermicides. Furthermore, spermicides are needed for diaphragms and cervical caps to be effective.

Many spermicides currently available in the United States contain nonoxynol-9 (N-9). N-9 is also the spermicide in the Today sponge. Other spermicides and spermicidal microbicides are currently under development. Many are being designed to avoid the problems currently being seen with N-9 use.

Condoms with spermicidal lube used to be a pretty common option for safe sex. However, that began to change once people started to become aware of the potential dangers of N-9 use.

What Is Nonoxynol-9 (N-9)?

N-9 is basically a type of detergent. It disrupts the plasma membranes (outer barrier) of sperm and other cells.

Scientists once believed N-9 to be effective at destroying STD pathogens, including HIV, herpes, chlamydia, and gonorrhea, but current research no longer supports this theory.

Other commercial spermicides that contain N-9 are also detergents. These products have similar properties to N-9.

The Hidden Dangers of Nonoxynol-9

Many people think that if a little bit of spermicide is good, than a lot of spermicides are bound to be better. But that theory is actually incorrect. It turns out that many spermicides, when used in excess, can make sex more hazardous. They can actually increase your risk of getting or giving someone a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

When used in high dosages, or when used frequently, N-9 causes damage to the vaginal epithelium, the layers of skin cells that line the vagina.

N-9 causes inflammation of the vagina and cervix. It can also actually kill off layers of cells. Both of these actions render a woman more susceptible to infection by various STDs, and make it easier for her to transmit STDs to her partner.

Regular use of N-9 may increase a person's risk of HIV, herpes, and other STDs. It may not even require frequent use for problems to be seen.

Should You Worry About N-9 When Practicing Safer Sex?

Not everyone needs to worry about N-9. However, it's good to have other options for practicing safe sex. That's particularly true if you have frequent sex. It's also true for people who are at high risk of STDs.

If you have frequent sex, consider using non-lubricated condoms with your own N-9-free lubricant, or non-spermicidal condoms. This is particularly important if you have sexual intercourse more than once or twice a day. Lubricant is an important component of safe sex. However, it's important to use the right kind.

If you're at high risk of sexually transmitted infections, talk to your doctor about possible alternative forms of contraception if you are using a diaphragm, cervical cap, or the Today sponge.

If you're in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone and you've both been tested, than the potentially increased STD risk may be less of a concern. STDs don't appear out of the blue. They're passed from one partner to another.

Characteristics and Uses of Spermicidal Lube Condoms

If you're at high risk of pregnancy and low risk of STDs, spermicidal-lubricated condoms may still be a reasonable choice. To help you decide, information about condoms with spermicidal lubricant is provided below:

  • Price: Average. Spermicidal-lubricated condoms don't cost more than other condoms.
  • Ease of Acquisition: Condoms with spermicidal lube are available at most drug stores and online
  • Use During Vaginal Intercourse: The only time condoms with spermicidal lubricant might be considered to have an advantage over other condoms is for monogamous heterosexual couples who are more concerned about pregnancy than STDs. Otherwise, there's no reason to choose condoms with spermicidal lube over condoms with non-spermicidal lube. For that matter, there's also no benefit over using unlubricated condoms with your preferred lubricant.
  • Use During Oral Sex: Condoms with a spermicidal lubricant are particularly bad for oral sex. N-9 not only can make your tongue numb, but it also tastes horrible.
  • Use During Anal Sex: N-9 may cause damage to the rectal lining that could increase the likelihood of transmitting HIV or another infection. Condoms without N-9 are probably a better idea for anal sex.

A Word From Verywell

Spermicidal-lubricated condoms are, most often, latex condoms lubricated with N-9. Although spermicide should increase the contraceptive efficacy of the condom, that may be offset by the disadvantages of a spermicidal personal lubricant.

There is evidence that use — particularly frequent use — of a spermicidal lubricant containing N-9 may actually increase a person's susceptibility to STDs. Because of this, few sex educators will recommend the use of spermicidal-lubricated condoms. Their only really appropriate use is for the prevention of pregnancy during sex in low-risk couples.

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  1. Zalenskaya IA, Cerocchi OG, Joseph T, Donaghay MA, Schriver SD, Doncel GF. Increased COX-2 expression in human vaginal epithelial cells exposed to nonoxynol-9, a vaginal contraceptive microbicide that failed to protect women from HIV-1 infection. Am J Reprod Immunol. 2011;65(6):569-77. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0897.2010.00964.x

  2. World Health Organization. Nonoxynol-9 ineffective in preventing HIV infection.