An Overview of Vaginal Contraceptive Film (VCF)

This hormone-free form of birth control kills sperm

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Vaginal Contraceptive Film (VCF)
Photo © 2015 Dawn Stacey

Vaginal contraceptive film (VCF) is a super thin, hormone-free film that is inserted into the vagina where it dissolves and delivers nonoxynol-9, a chemical that kills sperm (spermicide). You can buy VCF films without a prescription, and they are to be used every time you have intercourse.

You may already be aware of nonoxynol-9, as it is also available in jellies, creams, tablets, suppositories, and foams. Some condoms are even coated with the spermicide. VCFs are simply another option worth considering as you weigh your contraception choices.

Effectiveness

Vaginal contraceptive film, once inserted, absorbs vaginal secretions and melts into a thick gel that serves as a barrier to immobilize sperm. VCF has been around for over 20 years and vigorously tested.

In commenting on spermicides in general, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers them safe and effective in preventing pregnancy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list the "perfect use" effectiveness for spermicidal methods at a failure rate of 18 percent, or only 82 percent effective in the first year of use.

Typical user effectiveness rates for spermicides (those who may not use it consistently or may forget it at times) are closer to 78 percent. So, with typical use, 22 out of every 100 women will become pregnant during the first year, according to Planned Parenthood.

VCF is most effective for pregnancy prevention when used with another back-up form of birth control, including male and female condoms

Side Effects

There are almost no side effects when using VCF. It is effective and safe contraceptive when used consistently and according to the instructions provided.

According to the manufacturer of vaginal contraceptive film, few VCF users have reported minor irritation or burning of the vagina or penis. The fact that VCF uses less of the active ingredient than other spermicidal forms, such as foams and creams, means such side effects occur less often than with other nonoxynol-9 options.

Is it Right for You?

Like anything, vaginal contraceptive film has some advantages and disadvantages that you should be aware of. They have both health-related and practical implications.

Advantages

  • Hormone-free (good for those sensitive to birth control options containing estrogen and progestin)

  • Allows for spontaneity (lasts for three hours post-insertion)


  • Helps increase the effectiveness of pregnancy prevention when used together with a condom

  • Can't be felt by either partner

  • Easy to use; not messy and doesn't stain


  • Small (2-inch square); sold in individually sealed pouches

  • Widely available over the counter at drugstores and online

Disadvantages

  • Does not protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

  • Frequent use of VCFs or other products containing nonoxynol-9 may increase vaginal irritation, which may increase STD risk.

  • Spermicidal methods (when used alone) have a higher failure rate than many other birth control methods.

Remember: The only form of birth control effective for preventing STDs is a condom. 

How to Use It

VCF must be manually inserted into the vagina. It dissolves almost immediately after insertion. There is nothing to remove.

You or your partner can insert the VCF film, but it is important to place it far enough inside the vagina so it is in contact with the cervix. You should be sure you or your partner can locate your cervix with a finger so it gets placed correctly.

VCF must be inserted at least 15 minutes before intercourse for it to completely dissolve and work effectively.

A new film must be used each time you have intercourse. Once inserted, it will provide protection from pregnancy for up to three hours. VCF has a shelf life of five years.

A Word From Verywell

VCF films are just one of the many options for preventing pregnancy. Finding one that is right for you may involve both you assessing your wants and needs, and your doctor weighing in on any potential safety concerns. Whatever you choose, be sure you know how to use it properly for maximum effectiveness.

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