Your Guide to Birth Control: Spermicides

Last Editorial Review: 3/28/2005
The Cleveland Clinic

Birth control is a way for men and women to prevent pregnancy. There are many different methods of birth control; some types also protect against sexually transmitted diseases .

Spermicides are foams, jellies, tablets, or suppositories used by women to prevent pregnancy. Chemicals within the spermicide destroy the sperm, preventing it from implanting an egg. Spermicides may also help prevent STDs.

How Effective Are Spermicides?

Although spermicides in the foam or jelly form can be used alone, they are more effective when combined with a condom or diaphragm. Spermicide used alone is 79% effective, but when used together and properly, foam and condoms are about 97% effective in preventing pregnancy.

Does Contraceptive Foam Protect Against Sexually Transmitted Diseases?

Contraceptive foam may not protect against some sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). There is some data that contraceptive foam may cause irritation of the vaginal lining, allowing for easier transmission of HIV and other STDs.

Abstinence is the most effective way to prevent STDs and HIV.

However, for those individuals choosing to have sexual intercourse, condoms provide the best protection from most STDs. Contraceptive foam may not add protection against STDs, but may help prevent pregnancy when a condom breaks or spills.

Where Can I Get Contraceptive Foam?

Contraceptive foam is available without a prescription at most drug stores and supermarkets.

How Does It Work?

  • Foam should be inserted into the woman's vagina immediately before sex (up to 20 minutes before). It is effective immediately. Make sure the foam is inside the vagina before the penis gets close to the vagina.
  • To insert the foam, remove the canister of foam and the plastic applicator from the package. Shake the canister of foam about 30 times.
  • Attach the open end of the applicator to the aerosol top of the foam canister and push down until the clear part of the applicator is full. This should take about two seconds.
  • Separate the full applicator from the canister, and get into a comfortable position. Lie on your back, sit on a toilet or stand with one foot resting on a chair or bed. Hold the full applicator in one hand and gently guide it into your vagina with your other hand. Slowly push the plunger back into the applicator until the plunger can't go any farther.
  • If you have sex again soon after, use another applicator full of foam and a new condom.
  • Rinse the foam applicator in warm water with mild soap, if necessary.
  • Throw out the used condom.
  • You can wear a feminine pad to absorb spermicide that comes out.
  • Douching may increase risk of infection and should be avoided.

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD, WebMD, April 2004.

Portions of this page copyright © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2004


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