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Vaginal Spermicides

What are vaginal spermicides?

Vaginal spermicides are products such as foam, jelly, cream, suppositories or film that are inserted deep into the vagina on or near the cervix shortly before sexual intercourse.  Most of these products contain nonoxynol-9, a chemical that kills sperm on contact.  To be effective, a spermicide must be used every time intercourse occurs.

We recommend that vaginal spermicides always be used with condoms.

When are vaginal spermicides inserted?

Vaginal spermicides should be inserted into the vagina shortly before intercourse.  They typically remain effective for about 1 hour.  Another dose should be inserted if more than 1 hour has elapsed between insertion and intercourse.

  • Foam, cream and jelly provide protection as soon as they are inserted into the vagina.
  • Film and suppositories should be placed in the vagina at least 10 -15 minutes before intercourse to allow enough time for the product to melt and release its spermicide.

Each product has its own individual instructions for use.  Follow directions on the package.

What about douching?

The packaging information may mention or even recommend douching.  However, we do not recommend douching.  Douching has been associated with an increased risk for pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancy.  The vagina naturally cleans itself.  Washing the genitals with mild soap and rinsing with plenty of warm water is usually all that is needed.  Some women may feel more comfortable wearing a panty liner if there is any vaginal discharge.

What are some of the benefits of using vaginal spermicides?

  1. Vaginal spermicides are easy to use without advance planning.
  2. Vaginal spermicides can be purchased without a prescription at the Hall Health Center Pharmacy, most drug stores, and many supermarkets.
  3. Vaginal spermicides can be used with condoms, the progestin-only pill, the IUD, and with fertility awareness methods to increase the contraceptive effectiveness of these methods.
  4. If a condom breaks, another application of vaginal spermicide can be inserted immediately to kill sperm in the vagina.  Studies have shown, however, that sperm may enter the cervix as soon as 15 seconds after ejaculation.  If you are concerned about the possibility of pregnancy, call your clinic's consulting nurse to ask about emergency contraception.
  5. Vaginal spermicides can provide extra lubrication during sexual intercourse.
  6. Clinical studies have shown that women who use nonoxynol-9 products decrease their risks for gonorrhea and chlamydia, especially when condoms are also used.  While laboratory studies have shown nonoxynol-9 inactivates the virus responsible for HIV/AIDS, it is unclear what effect nonoxynol-9 has on the transmission of this virus in actual sexual encounters.

What are some of the disadvantages of vaginal spermicides?

Women and men can be allergic to or have other skin problems from vaginal spermicides.  If this happens, sometimes switching products may help.  Try a less concentrated spermicide or a product containing octoxynol if you are sensitive to nonoxynol-9.

Additional resources

If you have any questions and are a UW student or established Hall Health patient, you may call one of our Consulting Nurses for further information.


Authored by: Hall Health Center Women's Health Clinic staff

Reviewed by: Hall Health Center Women's Health Clinic staff, January 2014