How Spermicides Work as Birth Control

Spermicide is an OTC birth control method that stops and immobilizes sperm. Spermicides are available in several forms, including spermicidal jelly/gel, cream, foam, film, and suppositories. Spermicide can be used by itself. But, to be more effective, you can combine it with other birth control methods, like a condom or female condom. You must always use spermicide with a diaphragm or cervical cap.

Contraceptive gel


How Spermicides Work

Spermicide has to be inserted deep into the vagina before having sex. The spermicide forms a barrier that blocks the cervix, the entrance to the uterus. It can stop sperm from swimming, so they cannot fertilize an egg. Spermicide also helps to prevent pregnancy by killing sperm. Many spermicides contain the chemical nonoxynol-9 (N-9). It is important that you follow the warning labels of these spermicides because using N-9 too frequently may pose problems.


Even though they work the same way, each type of spermicide is a little different to use. Because of this, it is important that you read the directions that come with the spermicide type you plan to use.

  • The creams, foams, and jellies/gels are usually squeezed into the vagina using an applicator.
  • You use your fingers to insert spermicidal suppositories and vaginal contraceptive film (VCF) into the back of vagina.
  • It may easier to insert the spermicide while you are squatting or lying down.

You must insert the spermicide into your vagina before having sexual intercourse. Again, read the directions to find out how much time you must wait after inserting the spermicide before you can have sex.

  • Some spermicides may offer protection right away.
  • Most spermicides must be placed in the vagina for at least 10–15 minutes before having sex. This gives the spermicide enough time to dissolve, melt, and/or spread to form a barrier.

Spermicide is only effective for about one hour after you have inserted it. This means that you must use more spermicide if more than an hour has passed. You also need to insert another application of spermicide every time you have sex.


Spermicide is easy to use and can be conveniently bought OTC without a prescription. It is not expensive and can be carried discreetly in your purse or pocket. Spermicide does not contain any hormones and can be used for contraception when you are breastfeeding. Some couples like to incorporate its use during sex play.


One of the most common complaints about spermicide is that it is messy, and it may leak out of the vagina. Spermicide may also irritate the penis, vagina, and/or surrounding skin. This irritation may make it easier to become infected with a sexually transmitted infection. To solve this issue, you can try to switch spermicide brands. Because spermicide may disturb the normal balance of bacteria in your vagina, it is possible to get recurrent urinary tract infections with continued spermicide use. Finally, to be most effective, you must follow the exact directions that come with the spermicide—if not, it may not form a good barrier over the cervix.


Spermicide tends to be most effective when used with another method of birth control. Spermicide alone (all forms) is about 79% effective. This means that with typical use, about 21 out of every 100 women who use spermicide will become pregnant during the first year. With perfect use, 18 will become pregnant. When used with a diaphragm, the effectiveness is about 83% for typical use.

Also Known As: Spermicidal jelly, vaginal spermicides, spermicidal foam, spermicidal tablets, spermicidal suppositories, spermicidal jelly, spermicidal cream, spermicide gel, contraceptive foam, contraceptive cream, contraceptive jelly, or contraceptive film

1 Source
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  1. World Health Organization. Spermicides and diaphragms - Family Planning: A Global Handbook for Providers.

By Dawn Stacey, PhD, LMHC
Dawn Stacey, PhD, LMHC, is a published author, college professor, and mental health consultant with over 15 years of counseling experience.