An Overview of Vaginal Contraceptive Film (VCF)

This hormone-free form of birth control kills sperm

Vaginal contraceptive film (VCF) is a superthin film that is inserted into the vagina. It then dissolves and releases nonoxynol-9, a chemical that kills sperm (spermicide). You can buy VCF film without a prescription. The film must be used every time you have intercourse.

This article will explain how to use vaginal contraceptive film. It will also explain how effective it is compared to other forms of birth control, which may help you decide if it's right for you.

Vaginal Contraceptive Film (VCF)
Dawn Stacey

Effectiveness

Nonoxynol-9, the spermicide in VCF, is also available in jellies, creams, vaginal suppositories, and foams. Some condoms are even coated with nonoxynol-9.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers VCF safe and effective for preventing pregnancy. However, it is not as reliable as other birth control methods, such as the pill or an intrauterine device (IUD).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you use a birth control method with nonoxynol-9 according to the instructions every time you have intercourse, it is 82% effective when used alone. This means 18 out of 100 of women will get pregnant in the first year of use.

If you forget to use it sometimes or don't follow the instructions properly, VCF is only 72% effective. In this case, 28 out of every 100 women will become pregnant during a year using this method alone.

VCF is most effective for preventing pregnancy when used with another backup form of birth control, such as male and female condoms. The only form of birth control effective for preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is a condom.

Side Effects

According to the manufacturer of vaginal contraceptive film, a small number of users have reported minor irritation or burning of the vagina or penis. VCF contains less nonoxynol-9 than other products containing this spermicide. This means VCF is less likely to cause irritation.

Is VCF Right for You?

Vaginal contraceptive film has some pros and cons that you should be aware of.

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

  • Starts working quickly and lasts for three hours once it's inserted

  • Can be used with a condom to increase the effectiveness

  • Can't be felt by either partner

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

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

  • Widely available over the counter at drugstores and online

Cons
  • Does not protect against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other STIs

  • Frequent use of VCFs or other products containing nonoxynol-9 may increase vaginal irritation. This can increase the risk of STIs.

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

How to Use It

Vaginal contraceptive film, once inserted, absorbs vaginal secretions and melts into a thick gel that kills sperm. VCF has been around for over 20 years and has been rigorously tested for safety

You insert the film by hand. You or your partner can insert the VCF film, but it is important to place it far enough inside the vagina so that 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.

The VCF dissolves almost immediately after insertion. There is nothing to remove.

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.

Summary

VCF is an over-the-counter form of birth control. It comes in small sheets of a thin film. You insert it into your vagina, where it dissolves and releases the spermicide nonoxynol-9.

Although VCF is not one of the most effective methods of birth control, it is far more effective than not using anything at all. It is easy to buy online or in a drugstore, and it is safe when used according to the instructions provided.

A Word From Verywell

VCF film is just one of the many options for preventing pregnancy. Your healthcare provider as well as your partner can help you figure out which is the best one for you based on your wants and needs. Whatever type of birth control you choose, be sure you know how to use it properly for maximum effectiveness.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is vaginal contraceptive film (VCF)?

    Vaginal contraceptive film (VCF) is a nonhormonal form of birth control. It consists of a thin, clear strip of material that you insert into your vagina. It then dissolves and releases nonoxynol-9 (a highly efficient spermicide). Placed high in the vagina, as close as possible to the cervix, the film dissolves quickly into a protective gel.

  • How effective is vaginal contraceptive film?

    With optimal use—meaning that it is used correctly with every episode of vaginal sex—vaginal contraceptive film (VCF) is effective 82% of the time. This means that if VCF is used as the only form of birth control, 18 out of every 100 women will become pregnant within one year.

  • How long does vaginal contraceptive film work?

    According to the manufacturer, vaginal contraceptive film will remain effective for up to three hours. If three hours have passed since the application of the film, you will need to use another one. You will also need to apply a new film after every male ejaculation.

  • How do you use vaginal contraceptive film?

    To correctly apply vaginal contraceptive film:

    • Be sure your hands are clean and dry.
    • Remove the oblong strip of film from its packet.
    • Bend the strip between your fingers in a "U" shape.
    • Insert the strip into the vagina so that it comes into contact with the cervix.
    • Wait at least 15 minutes before having sex.
  • What are side effects of vaginal contraceptive film?

    Because vaginal contraceptive film contains less nonxoynol-9 than foams, gels, and other spermicidal products, it is less likely to cause side effects. Mild irritation or burning sensations of the vagina or penis have been reported.

  • Does vaginal contraceptive film protect against STIs?

    No. In fact, the frequent use of nonoxynol-9 can irritate the delicate tissues of the vagina and, by doing so, increase the risk of HIV. While vaginal contraceptive film can help prevent pregnancy, the best way to avoid STIs is to use a condom.

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5 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.
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Birth control.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Appendix D: contraceptive effectiveness. Recommendations and reports. Morbid Mortality Weekly Rep MMWR. 2014 Apr 25;63(RR04);47.

  3. National Institutes of Health. DailyMed. VCF contraceptive - nonoxynol film, soluble.

  4. Apothecus Pharmaceutical Corp. How to use VCF.

  5. Haddad LB, Polix CB, Sheth AN, et al. Contraceptive methods and risk of HIV acquisition or female-to-male transmission. Curr HIV/AIDS Rep. 2014 Dec;11(4):447-58. doi:10.1007/s11904-014-0236-6