The 6 Types of Spermicide

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A spermicide is an over-the-counter form of birth control. It works in a couple of different ways:

  • It kills sperm
  • It blocks the entrance to the cervix so sperm can't reach an egg

Spermicide is placed deep into the vagina just before sex.

Spermicide comes in several forms. The active ingredient is nonoxynol-9.

When used alone, spermicide prevents pregnancy only around 72% of the time. It does not prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

To boost pregnancy protection, combine spermicide with another form of birth control, such as a:

Using a condom also prevents STIs.

This article discusses the six types of spermicides and how to use them.

The 6 Types of Spermicide
Verywell / Jessica Olah

Spermicidal Foam

Contraceptive foam comes in an aerosol can with an applicator. The product looks similar to mousse hairstyle products.

To use, shake the can for at least 30 seconds. Press the tip of the applicator on the nozzle and press down. This fills the applicator with foam.

Lie down and insert the applicator a few inches into the vagina. Push the plunger to release the foam.

The foam is active immediately. This means you should insert it no more than 30 minutes before sex.

Two applications may be better than one.

Wash the applicator with soap and water. Store it in a clean, dry place so it can be used again.

Recap

Contraceptive foam should be inserted no more than 30 minutes before sex.

Contraceptive Film

Vaginal contraceptive film (VCF) is a 2-by-2-inch sheet of thin film. It looks similar to wax paper.

To insert it, fold it in half, then in half again. Place it on the tip of your index finger. Push it into the vagina on or near the cervix. 

Spermicidal film will absorb vaginal secretions and melt into a thick gel. In this way, it acts as a barrier to stop sperm.

VCF must be inserted at least 15 minutes before sex. This gives it time to completely dissolve so it will be effective.

A new piece of a VCF should be used each time you have sex. A single application is good for up to only one hour.

Contraceptive Inserts, Tablets, or Suppositories

These are solid forms of concentrated spermicide that melt into a foam. Inserts or suppositories are about 1/2 inch long and less than 1/4 inch wide.

The suppository needs to be inserted in the vagina as close to the cervix as possible. Wait 10 to 15 minutes to allow it to dissolve into a foamy substance.

Suppositories may be less effective than foam, cream, or gel. This is because it is hard to know if they have fully dissolved.

A new insert should be used each time you have sex.

Foaming contraceptive tablets work the same way as inserts. Some people report a warm sensation in the vagina as these spermicidal tablets melt into a foam.

Recap

Contraceptive inserts and tablets turn into a foamy substance after insertion. Wait 10 to 15 minutes for the insert to dissolve before having sex.

Spermicidal Jelly

Contraceptive jelly is another form of concentrated spermicide. Jellies come in tubes. They are usually used with a diaphragm or cervical cap.

To use, squeeze the spermicidal jelly into the applicator. Insert it into your vagina. Insert a second dose if sex lasts longer than an hour or if you have sex again.

When used with a diaphragm, protection lasts up to six hours. Unlike spermicidal foams, films, and inserts, jelly can also provide lubrication.

Spermicidal Creams and Gels

Creams and gels are used the same way as spermicidal jelly. Like jelly, they also provide lubrication.

Contraceptive creams and gels come in different textures. They tend to be less likely to drip or leak than other forms of spermicide.

To use, twist the applicator onto the end of the tube. Fill with the cream or gel. Twist off the applicator and insert it into the vagina close to the cervix. Press the plunger to release.

Gels and creams work best when used right before sex. Most should not be inserted more than 30 minutes before sex.

Advantage 24 is an exception. This gel steadily releases nonoxynol-9. One dose provides 24-hour protection.

Recap

Contraceptive creams may be less messy than other forms of spermicide. With most creams, you should have sex within 30 minutes of inserting.

Contraceptive Sponge

The contraceptive sponge is a soft, round device about 2 inches in diameter. It is made of solid polyurethane foam. It has a nylon loop attached to the bottom for removal.

Moisten the sponge with water and insert into the vagina before sex. It covers the cervix and also releases spermicide.

Summary

Spermicide is an over-the-counter birth control that is about 72% effective at preventing pregnancy. It should be combined with other forms of birth control.

Spermicide comes in a number of different forms, from foams and jellies to films, suppositories, and sponges.

Different types of spermicide have different instructions for usage. Some last longer than others or need to be inserted at different times before sex. Be sure to read the instructions before using. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a spermicide?

    A spermicide is a substance inserted into the vagina before sex that prevents pregnancy by killing sperm before they can fertilize an egg. Spermicides are usually paired with a barrier contraceptive such as a condom, diaphragm, contraceptive sponge, or cervical cap.

  • Can spermicides alone prevent pregnancy?

    They can, but, on their own, spermicides are not the most reliable form of birth control. According to a 2013 Cochrane review, when used alone, spermicides were only 78% to 86% effective in preventing pregnancy over a six-month period.

  • What chemicals are used in spermicides?

    By far the most common active ingredient of spermicides is nonoxynol-9. In May 2020, the FDA approved a new spermicidal gel called Phexxi made with lactic acid, citric acid, and potassium bitartrate.

  • What types of spermicide are there?

    Spermicides come in many different forms. Some are inserted directly into the vagina (such as spermicidal foams, creams, gels, films, or suppositories) and others are infused in contraceptive sponges or pre-lubricated condoms.

  • Can spermicides cause side effects?

    Nonoxynol-9, the most common spermicide, can cause vaginal inflammation and irritation. The overuse of nonoxynol-9 can damage the delicate tissues of the vagina and actually increase the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Grimes DA, Lopez LM, Raymond EG, Halpern V, Nanda K, Schultz KF. Spermicides used alone for contraception. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;(9):CD005218. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005218.pub3

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  4. Planned Parenthood. What are the disadvantages of using spermicide?