Birth Control FAQs: Spermicides

When it comes to birth control, there are more options today than ever before.  But with so many choices out there, it isn’t easy for the average consumer to know where to start. That’s why Nurx is creating a series called “Birth Control FAQs,” where their goal is to empower consumers by answering the most frequently asked questions for each birth control type.  Want to know more about how IUDs work, or common side effects from the patch? Nurx has you covered…starting with spermicides. Though Nurx doesn’t offer spermicides, we would love to get you started with us on the birth control pill that’s right for you, and at only $5 for your first pack, what’s not to love?

What Is Spermicide?

At its most basic, spermicide is a chemical that either kills or immobilizes sperm. It can be found in a number of forms including films, creams, gels, foams, sponges, and even tablets and suppositories. It’s inserted into the vagina prior to sex to prevent sperm from reaching the cervix. While it is fairly effective on its own, chances of an unplanned pregnancy greatly diminish when it’s combined with other methods.

How It Works

Unlike some methods, spermicide doesn’t have to be inserted several hours before sex. In fact, it is recommended that users apply it right before intercourse. To be most effective as a stand-alone birth control method, it needs to coat the entire entry to the cervix and the surrounding area. Better yet — combine it with other barrier methods to further decrease the chance of an unplanned pregnancy. Be sure to read the instructions carefully to know how much to use and how to apply it.

Availability

Spermicide does not require a prescription or fitting by a doctor. It is readily available over the counter in most drugstores and supermarket pharmacies. Costs can vary depending on the brand and form, but it is generally inexpensive compared to most other forms of birth control. 

Gels, foams, and creams can cost anywhere from $7 to $18, though that number is typically around $8. Most insurance plans will cover part or all of the cost of these products.

Precautions

One of the most important points to remember about spermicide is that it does not protect against STIs and HIV. For that reason, doctors strongly advise against its use if either partner is infected with HIV or any other STI. Neither is it recommended for use during anal sex. Since spermicide can irritate the vaginal and anal tissue, it increases the chances of the infection-free partner contracting the infection.

As mentioned, spermicides can lead to an allergic reaction in some users or their partners. Depending on the individual, these can range from mild to potentially fatal, although these are uncommon. Only about 3 to 5 percent of women have reported discontinuing the use of spermicide because of these reactions.

Side Effects

Side effects are not common, but if they do occur, most are mild and will clear up on their own after discontinuing its use. These may include itching, genital rash, irritation, yeast infections, and urinary tract infections.

Severe allergic reactions have been known to occur. However, these are quite rare. Stop using spermicide and contact one of our Nurx health care providers for advice if you experience genital swelling or blistering, painful irritation, or rectal or vaginal abrasions. These are more serious and will require medical treatment.

Nonoxynol-9 can lead to anaphylaxis. While unlikely to be a complication, watch for symptoms including wheezing, fever, chest tightness, or swelling or itching of the lips, face, throat, or tongue. This is a medical emergency and should be treated immediately.

Important Information

On their own, spermicides are relatively effective but not among the best forms of birth control if it’s all you’re using. Based on the way most people use it, spermicide has a failure rate of around 28 percent. For that reason, most users combine it with other barrier methods such as condoms, cervical caps, and diaphragms. This increases spermicide’s effectiveness greatly and further minimizes the chances of getting pregnant.

Because it is hormone-free, spermicides are safe to use if the patient is on medication. It’s also one of the few barrier methods that are recommended for use during your period. Diaphragms and cervical caps increase the chance of toxic shock syndrome during this part of the cycle, so most doctors advise women to use spermicides along with male condoms whenever protection is required.

Frequently Asked Questions

The instructions say to wait a specific amount of time between uses. Do I really have to follow it?

Yes. You should always carefully follow the directions on the package when you use spermicide. It usually needs to be left in the vagina for six to eight hours after intercourse to ensure all sperm have been killed off or incapacitated. Not following this guideline can increase the risk of an unplanned pregnancy.

Can I douche after using spermicide?

It’s not required, as the spermicide will naturally leave the vagina afterward. However, if you prefer to douche, you certainly can. Again, don’t do it until the allotted amount of time has passed as defined in the instructions.

Can I use soap after applying spermicide?

Depending on the type of soap, yes. Usually, it’s fine to hop in the shower and have a wash right after use. Make sure to read the directions first, though. Some soaps and body washes won’t adversely affect spermicides, while others can cause them to lose some of their effectiveness. 

Can spermicides be used after their expiration date?

They can be used, but they won’t be as effective. While you don’t have to throw it out and buy a new one the day it expires, keep in mind that over time it will lose its potency. A week or two after the date may be all right, but a year is well past the safe zone. Use your own judgment to determine whether you’re willing to risk it.

Can I use spermicide with condoms?

Yes! Spermicide won’t damage condoms so they can be used together to increase effectiveness. Even though spermicide can’t protect you from STDs adding a condom will help keep you safe. About 18 out of 100 women whose partners use condoms get pregnant in a year compared to about 28 out of 100 women who use Spermicide alone get pregnant in a year.

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