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What are spermicides?

Spermicide is a chemical that kills sperm; this prevents fertilization of an egg. Spermicide comes on some condoms (be sure to check the package), but it is also marketed in forms that are inserted into the vagina. These include suppositories, foams, creams, inserts, film and gels. People can use a spermicide alone, but it’s more effective at preventing pregnancy when used with a condom, diaphragm or cervical cap.

To use spermicides in the vagina, there is a slight waiting period before they are effective. Usually this time period is between 10 and 15 minutes. This allows time for body heat to melt the spermicide so it effectively covers the cervix.

When used alone and perfectly (every time you engage in vaginal sex), spermicides prevent pregnancy about 82 percent of the time. With more typical use, they prevent pregnancy about 72 percent of the time. Condoms improve the chance of preventing pregnancy and the transmission of STDs.

Some people can be allergic to the chemicals used in spermicides. Soreness, itching, redness and swelling are the most common allergy symptoms. If someone has a reaction to the spermicides and has unprotected sex with a partner, then the rubbing against the irritated skin can make them more susceptible to contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), if their partner has one. This is another reason why using condoms along with spermicides is a good idea.

Spermicides are sold in many drugstores and pharmacies, as well as in family planning clinics. One tube of gel or cream typically costs about eight dollars. One dose of an insert, film or foam typically costs about a dollar and is sold in packs of three, six or more.

For more information and photos of all the birth control methods, check out this FAQ.

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