Easy to find, no hormones, and no prescription needed.
“Spermicide” describes a bunch of different creams, films, foams, gels, and suppositories that contain chemicals that stop sperm from moving. You insert it deep in your vagina, so it also keeps sperm from getting through your cervix and into your uterus.
If you’ve got no other options
The failure rate of spermicide on its own is pretty high—29% for typical use—but it’s better than using nothing at all.
“Boost” another method
You can use spermicide to make another method (like condoms) more effective.
No prescription necessary
If you can’t make it to the doctor (or don’t want to), you can always use spermicide. It’s available at most drug stores and supermarkets. But why not pick up a pack of condoms while you’re at it?
Some people are allergic
If you get irritated using spermicide, you’re probably allergic to it. Unfortunately, all spermicides and contraceptive gels sold in the United States contain the same active ingredient, Nonoxynol-9. If you’re allergic to that, this method (and condoms with spermicidal lubricant) won’t work for you.
You’re confident your partner is HIV-free.
Women who have a high risk of exposure to HIV shouldn’t use this method. Nonoxynol-9 causes changes in your vagina that can make you more susceptible to HIV. If there’s a chance your guy is sleeping around (or has in the past and has never been tested), use a condom.
Spermicide is a good, relatively inexpensive
option for birth control that has a decent effectiveness rate when used alone, and better effectiveness when used with other-over-the counter methods.
- CVS: $1-$1.45 (vaginal contraceptive film), $0.67-$1.20 (vaginal contraceptive inserts), $1.50 (contraceptive gel in pre-filled applicators)
- Target: N/A
- Walgreens: $1.70 (contraceptive gel in pre-filled applicators)
- Walmart: $6 (1 can of contraceptive foam—unclear how many uses 1 can provides)
- Payment assistance: Check with your local family planning health centers and find out if they offer free or low-cost birth control (most do)
* Keep in mind that these prices are from a survey of online retailers; prices at the store may be a bit higher—or lower—than what we found online.
Every type of spermicide is different,
and there are a lot of them available. So be sure to read the instructions on the packaging and check the expiration date. For the most part, though, you simply insert the spermicide with your fingers or with an applicator, just like you’d insert a tampon.
After insertion, some spermicides require that you wait ten minutes before having sex. These types of spermicide are also only effective for a single hour after you put them in—so you have to get the timing right.
There are positive and negative things to say
about each and every method. And everyone’s different—so what you experience may not be the same as what your friend experiences.
Positive “side effects”? You bet. There are actually lots of things about birth control that are good for your body as well as your sex life.
- Easy to use and convenient to get a hold of
- Doesn’t affect your hormones
- No prescription necessary
- Can be used while breastfeeding
Everyone worries about negative side effects, but for most women, they’re not a problem.
- Can be messy and/or leak out of your vagina
- Might irritate your vagina or your partner’s penis
- Some people are allergic to spermicide
- You may not like the taste
- All spermicides sold in the U.S. contain Nonoxynol-9, which can cause irritation (especially if you use it more than once a day). That can lead to an increased risk of HIV and STI transmission
We’re here to get this method working better for you.
And if it still doesn’t feel right, we’ve got ideas for other methods. Just remember: If you change methods, make sure you’re protected while you switch.
I find spermicide irritating.
The irritation might be because of the brand of spermicide you’re using, so you might want to try out another kind. If you’re allergic to Nonoxynol-9 (the main ingredient in all spermicides/contraceptive gels sold in the United States), however, check out another method.
The spermicide I’m using is really messy.
You could try switching brands and making sure you’re using your spermicide exactly as the instructions say you should. That said, spermicide is messy. If it bothers you, you might want to look into another method.
Still not working?
If spermicide isn’t working for you, you may want to try a long-term, low-maintenance method like the IUD, the implant, or the shot. If you prefer a non-hormonal method without spermicide, you might want to try the ParaGard IUD or condoms.
Real Stories (English)
We say film, you think movie. But for Kevin and his girl, it’s their birth control method of choice. She inserts a small, thin piece of vaginal contraceptive film at least 15 minutes before sex and the film dissolves and disperses spermicide inside her. The only drawback for Kevin is if they don’t plan ahead. They might have to stop the action, put in the film and wait out those 15 minutes it takes to dissolve. (But he says this usually isn’t an issue.) They turned to this method because she found condoms to be painful and there are no hormones involved. If you try it, make sure you’re not too sensitive to the ingredients. (Spermicide can irritate some people down there.)
Courtney used to be on the pill, but was advised to go off of it when her breasts grew to the point of causing back pain. Her doctor suggested condoms and spermicide instead, and that combo has kept her protected since. Courtney got really good at using spermicide when in an abusive relationship. That guy didn’t want her to use condoms, but she could still use spermicide without him knowing. Now she has a partner that will use condoms, but she still uses spermicide for herself. She puts it in when he’s on his way to her house and she’s ready to go when he gets there. It’s extra protection that puts her at ease.
Parents of four with one of the way, Marisela and her husband have been together since they were teens. They’ve always planned to have a big family, but they’ve also always used birth control when they weren’t trying to get pregnant. They started out using condoms and soon after added spermicide to the mix. It’s a combination that has worked well for them and allowed them to space their kids exactly as planned. Marisela doesn’t like putting anything inside her body, so her husband is responsible for inserting the spermicide’s applicator. He’s also in charge of buying all the condoms and spermicide. It’s a team effort, for sure, and we say: Go team!