How do spermicides work?

Reviewed on 1/6/2022

How do spermicides work?

Spermicides are medications applied typically into the vagina before every vaginal intercourse to prevent pregnancy. Spermicides are non-hormonal chemicals that act as a chemical barrier locally in the vagina during intercourse to immobilize, inactivate, damage, and/or kill the sperm.

Spermicides immobilize and kill the sperm by interacting with fatty substances (lipids) in the membrane of the head and midsection of the sperm, causing the membrane to rupture. Spermicides are surfactants (surface-active agents), do not have any systemic effect, and do not offer protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

How are spermicides used?

Spermicides are used for contraception and have more efficacy when used along with a condom or diaphragm. Spermicides are available over the counter in the following forms:

  • Gel
  • Foam
  • Insert
  • Sponge
  • Film

Vaginal gels and foams are applied inside the vagina with an applicator. Vaginal inserts and films are inserted into the vagina, which then dissolves and releases the spermicide. These spermicides are effective for up to one hour after application and must be applied before every vaginal intercourse, regardless of the time since the previous application.

Vaginal sponges are inserted deep into the vagina and provide protection for up to 24 hours, even with repeated acts of intercourse. Vaginal sponges should be left in place for six hours after the last intercourse, but should not remain inside the vagina for longer than 30 hours. Vaginal sponges must not be reused.

What are the side effects of spermicides?

Side effects of spermicides may include the following:

  • Vaginal reactions such as:
    • Burning
    • Itching
    • Rash
    • Irritation
  • Genital irritation in the male partner

Information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible side effects, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure these drugs do not cause any harm when you take them along with travel medicines. Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting your doctor.

What are the names of spermicide drugs?

Generic and brand names of spermicide drugs include:

  • Conceptrol Options
  • Encare
  • Gynol II Extra Strength
  • nonoxynol-9 vaginal
  • Today Vaginal Contraceptive
  • VCF

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