Will spermicide keep me from getting pregnant?
Using spermicide may reduce the chance you get pregnant, but on its own it’s NOT an effective method of birth control.
Spermicide works by creating a barrier that kills sperm or makes it so they can’t move. This prevents them from entering the uterus and fertilizing an egg (which can lead to a pregnancy). Spermicides come in different forms: gels, creams, foams, films and suppositories (these are soft cylinders that melt after inserted into your vagina). To use them, you insert the spermicide deep in the vagina just before having sex. Like condoms, it’s necessary to use spermicide correctly EVERY time you have sex. They’re pretty cheap (usually around $8 for a package), and you can buy them at most drug stores. This means that you don’t need to see your doctor or get a prescription to use them (much like condoms).
With typical use, spermicide is around 72% effective. This means that over ¼ of people who use spermicide as their only birth control method will get pregnant in a year! For comparison, the birth control pill is 91% effective with typical use, and the implant (a tiny rod inserted in the arm that releases hormones) is over 99% effective!
Because of this, we don’t recommend using spermicide as your main form of birth control.
If you’re worried about getting pregnant, talk to your health care provider about what birth control method might be right for you right now. We talk more about some things to consider when deciding on a method here. If you know you don’t want to have a baby anytime soon, we recommend long-acting, reversible contraceptives (LARCs). LARCs include the implant, which we’ve already mentioned, plus hormonal and non-hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs), which are small, T-shaped devices that a health care provider inserts into your uterus. LARCs can stay in place for between 3-12 YEARS without you needing to think about them!
That doesn’t mean that spermicide definitely has no place in your sex life, though. When combined with other methods of birth control (like condoms, diaphragms or cervical caps), it can make them even more effective. Just pay attention to how using spermicide affects you. Some people find the active ingredient in spermicides irritates their skin. If you or your partner’s skin or genitals become red, itchy, or irritated after using spermicide, it’s probably not right for you.
Spermicide also doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs, sometimes called sexually transmitted diseases or STDs). In fact, if spermicide irritates your skin, it can be even easier for HIV and other STIs to enter your body. Use condoms (the right way, every time) to prevent the spread of STIs. If you want more control over your sexual health, consider using internal (sometimes called “female”) condoms. You and your partner should also get regularly tested.
While it’s less common, some people with vaginas find that spermicide leads to bacterial vaginosis (BV, which we talk more about here) or urinary tract infections (UTIs).
If you’re 10-22 years old and live in NYC, you can get completely free, confidential birth control, STI testing & treatment and other comprehensive health services at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. One of our amazing health educators can also talk to you in more detail about spermicide, condoms, birth control and everything you need to know about safer sex! They can also send you home with all the (internal and external) condoms, dental dams and lube you need. All of our services are completely free, non-judgmental, and designed specifically for young people!
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This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.
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