What is it?

Spermicides help keep sperm from entering the uterus. They come in several forms, including:

  • Gel
  • Cream
  • Foam
  • Film
  • Suppository
  • Tablet

How well does it prevent pregnancy?

Among the least effective forms of birth control — one of the highest pregnancy rates of all birth control methods.

About 21 out of 100 women who only use spermicides become pregnant in a year of use.


Spermicides are inserted inside the vagina to keep sperm from entering the uterus through the cervix.

Spermicides block sperm in two ways. They cover the cervix, forming a barrier against sperm. The chemicals in spermicides also slow the movement of sperm.


Many brands and types of spermicide are sold in the United States. Nonoxynol-9 is the main ingredient in all of them.


  • Either partner can buy without prescription at drugstores and many stores.
  • Can apply up to 1 hour before sex. Gel and foam spermicides take effect right away.
  • Safe for most women, including those who are breastfeeding.
  • Can be combined with other methods, such as condoms, to make spermicide more effective.
  • Hormone-free and requires no procedure or doctor visit.
  • Lubrication from spermicides may increase pleasure during sex.
  • Reversible. Stop using spermicides if you want to try to get pregnant.


  • One of the least effective forms of birth control.
  • Need to use every time you have sex.
  • Film and suppository spermicides don’t become active for 15 minutes after you apply them. You may have to wait to have sex.
  • Some forms of spermicide, such as foam, may be messy to use.
  • Bathing or swimming within 6 hours after sex may make spermicides less effective.


Some women are allergic or sensitive to spermicides. If you feel irritation in your vagina, consider using a different method.

Consider keeping emergency birth control (“morning-after pill”) at home to use as backup. It works best to prevent pregnancy if taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex or birth control mishaps, but may work if taken up to 5 days afterward. Brands include Plan B, ella, and others.
Use with condom to avoid getting or spreading sexually transmitted diseases or infections, including HIV.
Avoid using spermicide if you have HIV or are at high risk for HIV. Nonoxynol-9 may irritate the genitals. This can increase the chance of getting or spreading HIV.