Is Vaginal Contraceptive Film Effective?

Use and Safety for Birth Control

Vaginal Contraceptive Film (VCF)
Photo © 2015 Dawn Stacey

Vaginal contraceptive film (VCF) is a hormone-free sheet of spermicidal film, somewhat similar to wax paper. It is inserted into the vagina before intercourse to prevent pregnancy. The ultra-thin VCF sheet is transparent, water-soluble, and contains the spermicide nonoxynol-9, which kills sperm on contact.

VCF Advantages

  • VCF is an over-the-counter product that is widely available at drugstores without a prescription and can be bought online.
  • Used together with a condom, you can increase the effectiveness for pregnancy prevention to 97 percent.
  • Small size (2-inches square), portable, and they come in individually sealed pouches.
  • Easy to use
  • Not messy and doesn't stain
  • Allows for spontaneity, lasts for three hours
  • Hormone-free
  • Can't be felt by either partner because it contains a less inactive ingredient than is required in foams, gels, suppositories, and creams used to deliver the spermicide.

VCF Disadvantages

  • STD Protection: VCF does not protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Some studies have suggested that frequent use of products containing nonoxynol-9 can increase vaginal irritation, which may increase the risk of getting STDs from infected partners.
  • Spermicidal methods (when used alone) have a higher failure rate than many other birth control methods, including permanent methods, hormonal birth control, and barrier methods.

How to Use VCF

VCF must be manually inserted into the vagina all the way up to the cervix. It dissolves almost immediately after insertion. There is nothing to remove. This vaginal contraceptive will melt into a thick gel consistency by absorbing vaginal secretions, so it acts as a barrier to immobilize sperm.

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 completely dissolve and work effectively. VCF has a shelf life of five years on all produced batches.

VCF Effectiveness and Safety

Vaginal contraceptive film is considered to be an effective and safe contraceptive when used consistently and according to the instructions provided. There are almost no side effects when using VCF. According to Apothecus Pharmaceutical (the manufacturer of VCF), only 2 percent of VCF users have reported minor irritation or burning of the vagina or penis.

Apothecus maintains that VCF has undergone many safety and efficacy studies conducted worldwide. Apothecus claims that in these clinical studies, "VCF, when used as directed, has a Pearl Index failure rate of 5.9.” This means that out of 100 women who use VCF for one year, 5.9 will become pregnant (correlating to a 94 percent success rate). However, the CDC lists 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 (those who may not use it consistently or may forget it at times) are closer to 74 percent, so with typical use 26 out of every 100 women who use contraceptive film will become pregnant during the first year. This is similar to the failure rate of all spermicidal methods, which is at 28 out of 100 women with typical use.

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