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What is a spermicide?

A spermicide is a chemical product used for birth control. It contains chemicals that kill sperm. It comes in a number of forms, such as foams, jellies, and creams. A spermicide is inserted into a woman's vagina before sexual intercourse. It destroys the sperm in a man's semen before the sperm reach the uterus. Spermicides are somewhat unreliable when used alone to prevent pregnancy. They are much more effective when they are used with another barrier contraceptive such as a diaphragm, cervical cap, or condom.

How is it used?

No more than 30 minutes before sexual intercourse, use the applicator provided with the spermicide to insert spermicide high in the vagina over the cervix. (The cervix is the opening of the uterus.) The spermicide should cover the cervix. Insert more spermicide each time you have intercourse. DO NOT wash away the spermicide or douche for at least 6 to 8 hours after sexual intercourse.

Make sure you carefully read the label on the spermicide package for any special directions or precautions. Some forms of spermicide may be effective for just a short time or they may take a certain amount of time to dissolve. Consider these differences when you are choosing and using a spermicide.

What are the benefits?

The benefits of spermicides are:

• When used with other barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms and diaphragms, they are 90% to 97% effective in preventing pregnancy.

• No doctor visits or prescriptions are required, and they are widely available in drug and grocery stores.

• They are relatively inexpensive, and they are convenient to carry and use.

• They help lubricate the vagina (creams especially).

What are the disadvantages?

The disadvantages of spermicides include:

• They are only 75% to 80% effective in preventing pregnancy when used alone during intercourse.

• The sperm-destroying chemicals stop working after a fairly short time, so intercourse must occur within 30 minutes after the spermicide is inserted into the vagina.

• In rare cases, allergic reaction to the chemicals causes a sensation of burning, itching, or redness.

• Spermicides do not provide adequate protection, if any, against sexually transmitted diseases. A latex condom is the best protection against sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.