Vaginal spermicides are a type of contraceptive (birth control). These products are inserted into the vagina before any genital contact occurs or sexual intercourse begins. They work by damaging and killing sperm in the vagina. Therefore, the sperm are not able to travel from the vagina into the uterus and fallopian tubes, where fertilization takes place.
Vaginal spermicides, when used alone, are much less effective in preventing pregnancy than birth control pills, an intrauterine device (IUD), or spermicides used together with another form of birth control, such as cervical caps, condoms, or diaphragms. Studies have shown that when spermicides are used alone, pregnancy usually occurs in 21 of each 100 women during the first year of spermicide use. The number of pregnancies is reduced when spermicides are used with another method, especially the condom. Discuss with your doctor what your options are for birth control and the risks and benefits of each method.
The most effective way to protect yourself against HIV (AIDS) and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is by abstinence (not having sexual intercourse) or by having only one partner who you can be sure is not already infected or is not going to get an STD. However, if either of these methods is not likely or possible, using latex (rubber) condoms with a spermicide is the best way of protecting yourself.
The use of a spermicide is recommended even when you are using nonbarrier methods of birth control, such as birth control pills (the pill) or intrauterine devices (IUDs), since these do not offer any protection from STDs.
Vaginal spermicides are available without a prescription.
Make sure you carefully read and follow the directions that come with each spermicide product. Each product may have different directions for using the product. The directions tell you how much to use, how long you must wait before having intercourse, and how long you must leave it in the vagina after intercourse.
Spermicide products are for vaginal use only and are not for rectal (anal) use.
Vaginal douching is not needed or advised after using these medicines. When using a spermicide, douching within 6 to 8 hours after the last sexual intercourse (even with just water) may stop the spermicide from working properly. Also, washing or rinsing the vaginal or rectal area may wash the spermicide away before it has had time to work properly.
Cervical caps and diaphragms are not recommended for use during your menstrual period because of an increased chance of developing toxic shock syndrome. Your doctor may advise you to use condoms with a spermicide instead during your menstrual periods when protection is needed.
For proper use of spermicide when used alone:
Follow directions carefully to make sure the spermicide is properly placed in the vagina. The spermicide should be inserted deep into the vagina and directly on the cervix (opening to the uterus).
Use the correct amount, according to the product directions.
Use another dose for each act of intercourse.
After you have applied or inserted the spermicide, wait the correct amount of time before having intercourse so that the spermicide can begin to work.
If you do not have intercourse within half an hour, read the product directions to see if you need to apply more spermicide.
For proper use of spermicide with cervical caps, condoms, or diaphragms:
Make sure the directions for the spermicide you choose state that it is safe for use with latex cervical caps, condoms, or diaphragms. If the directions do not say the spermicide is safe to use with latex products, the spermicide may cause cervical caps, condoms, or diaphragms to weaken and leak or cause condoms to break during intercourse.
If there is a leak or break during intercourse, it may be a good idea for the female partner to immediately place more spermicide in the vagina.
If you need an extra lubricant, make sure it is a water-based product safe for use with cervical caps, condoms, or diaphragms. Spermicides, especially gels and jellies, provide some lubrication during sexual intercourse.
Oil-based products such as hand, face, or body cream; petroleum jelly; cooking oils or shortenings; or baby oil should not be used because they weaken the latex rubber. (Even some products that easily rinse away with water are oil-based and should not be used.) Use of oil-based products increases the chances of the condom breaking during sexual intercourse. These products can also cause the rubber in cervical caps or diaphragms to break down faster and wear out sooner.
For patients using spermicides with a cervical cap:
To be most effective at preventing pregnancy, the cervical cap must always be used with a spermicide. Both must be used every time you have sexual intercourse.
Before inserting the cervical cap, inspect it for holes, tears, or cracks. If there are holes or defects, the cervical cap will not work effectively, even with a spermicide. It must be replaced.
Before you put the cervical cap over the cervix (opening to the uterus), a spermicide cream, foam, gel, or jelly should be put into the cup of the cervical cap. Follow the manufacturer’s directions on how long before sexual intercourse you may apply the spermicide. Fill the cervical cap one-third full with spermicide.
To insert the cervical cap, squeeze the rim between your thumb and forefinger so that it is narrow enough to fit into the vagina. While in a comfortable position, push the cervical cap as deeply into the vagina as it will go. Release the rim and press it into place around the cervix with your finger. The rim should be round again and be directly on the cervix. The cervical cap is held onto the cervix by suction.
Some doctors may recommend that you put more spermicide into the vagina each time you repeat sexual intercourse using a cervical cap. You should also check to make sure the cervical cap is in the proper position on the cervix before and after each time you have intercourse. You may wear the cervical cap for up to 48 hours (2 days).
Do not remove the cervical cap if it has been less than 8 hours since the last time you had sexual intercourse
To remove the cervical cap, use 1 or 2 fingers to push the rim away from the cervix. This will break the suction seal with the cervix. Then gently pull the cervical cap out of the vagina. Call your doctor if you have trouble removing the cervical cap.
For patients using spermicides with condoms
Condoms do not have to be used with spermicides, but the spermicide may provide a back-up birth control method in case the condom breaks or leaks.
Spread some spermicide on the outside of the condom, after it is unrolled over the penis. It is even more important that the female partner also use a spermicide inside the vagina.
Each time you repeat intercourse, a new condom must be used. Condoms should never be reused. Spermicide should also be applied to the outside of the new condom. The female partner must also put more spermicide in the vagina each time she has intercourse.
For patients using spermicides with a diaphragm:
To be most effective at preventing pregnancy, diaphragms must always be used with a spermicide. Some women may choose to insert a diaphragm every night to avoid the chance of having unprotected sexual intercourse and an unplanned pregnancy.
Inspect the diaphragm for holes by holding it up to a light. If there are holes or defects, the diaphragm will not work effectively, even with a spermicide. It must be replaced.
Before you put the diaphragm over the cervix (opening to the uterus), a spermicide cream, foam, gel, or jelly should be put into the cup of the diaphragm. Follow the manufacturer’s directions on how much spermicide to use and how long before sexual intercourse you may apply the spermicide. Also, spread some spermicide all around the rim of the diaphragm that will be touching the cervix. Some doctors also advise spreading more spermicide on the outside of the cup of the diaphragm.
To insert the diaphragm, squeeze the rim between your thumb and forefinger so that it is narrow enough to fit into the vagina. While in a comfortable position, push the diaphragm as deeply into the vagina as it will go and release the rim. Some women use a special applicator that makes it easier to insert the diaphragm. The diaphragm rim should be round again and be directly on the cervix.
Each time you repeat sexual intercourse, you should put more spermicide into the vagina.
Do not remove the diaphragm if it has been less than 6 or 8 hours (depending upon which brand of spermicide you use) since the last sexual intercourse. For the diaphragm to be most effective at preventing pregnancy, it must remain in the vagina for at least 6 or 8 hours (depending upon which brand of spermicide you use) after sexual intercourse. Be careful not to move the diaphragm out of place while you are applying more spermicide.
Do not wear the diaphragm for more than 24 hours, since doing so increases the risk of getting toxic shock syndrome or a urinary tract (bladder) infection.
To remove the diaphragm, hook one finger over the rim nearest the front. Pull the diaphragm downward and out of the vagina. Call your doctor if you have trouble removing the diaphragm.
The dose medicines in this class will be different for different patients. Follow your doctor’s orders or the directions on the label. The following information includes only the average doses of these medicines. If your dose is different, do not change it unless your doctor tells you to do so.
The amount of medicine that you take depends on the strength of the medicine. Also, the number of doses you take each day, the time allowed between doses, and the length of time you take the medicine depend on the medical problem for which you are using the medicine.
For benzalkonium chloride
For preventing pregnancy:
For vaginal dosage form (suppositories):
Adults and teenagers—
For use alone—One suppository inserted into the vagina at least ten minutes, but not longer than four hours, before each time you have sexual intercourse. It may help to wet the suppository before inserting it into the vagina.
For use with a diaphragm—After the diaphragm with spermicide has been placed into the vagina, insert one suppository at least ten minutes, but not longer than four hours, before each time you have sexual intercourse. It may help to wet the suppository before inserting it into the vagina. Also, insert another suppository before sexual intercourse if six hours have passed since you inserted the diaphragm.
Call your doctor or pharmacist for instructions.
Keep out of the reach of children.
Store the medicine in a closed container at room temperature, away from heat, moisture, and direct light. Keep from freezing.
Do not keep outdated medicine or medicine no longer needed.
Tell your doctor if you have ever had any unusual or allergic reaction to medicines in this group or any other medicines. Also tell your health care professional if you have any other types of allergies, such as to foods dyes, preservatives, or animals. For non-prescription products, read the label or package ingredients carefully.
These products have been used by teenagers and have not been shown to cause different side effects or problems than they do in adults. However, some younger users may need extra counseling and information on the importance of using spermicides exactly as they are supposed to be used so they will work properly.
Many studies have shown that the use of vaginal spermicides does not increase the risk of birth defects or miscarriage.
It is not known if vaginal spermicides pass into breast milk in humans. However, their use has not been reported to cause problems in nursing babies.
Although certain medicines should not be used together at all, in other cases two different medicines may be used together even if an interaction might occur. In these cases, your doctor may want to change the dose, or other precautions may be necessary. When you are taking any of these medicines, it is especially important that your healthcare professional know if you are taking any of the medicines listed below. The following interactions have been selected on the basis of their potential significance and are not necessarily all-inclusive.
Using medicines in this class with any of the following medicines is usually not recommended, but may be required in some cases. If both medicines are prescribed together, your doctor may change the dose or how often you use one or both of the medicines.
Certain medicines should not be used at or around the time of eating food or eating certain types of food since interactions may occur. Using alcohol or tobacco with certain medicines may also cause interactions to occur. Discuss with your healthcare professional the use of your medicine with food, alcohol, or tobacco.
The presence of other medical problems may affect the use of medicines in this class. Make sure you tell your doctor if you have any other medical problems, especially:
Allergies, irritations, or infections of the genitals—Using vaginal spermicides may cause moderate to severe irritation in these conditions. Also, benzalkonium suppositories may be less effective in women with vaginal infections.
Conditions or medical problems where it is important that pregnancy does not occur—Vaginal spermicides, when used alone, are much less effective than birth control pills, an intrauterine device (IUD), or spermicides used together with another form of birth control, such as cervical caps, condoms, or diaphragms. Discuss with your doctor what your options are for birth control and the risks and benefits of each method.
Recent childbirth or abortion or
Toxic shock syndrome, history of—Cervical caps or diaphragms should not be used in these cases because there is an increased chance of developing toxic shock syndrome.
Sores on the genitals (sex organs) or
Irritation of the vagina or rectum—Do not use this medicine if you or your sex partner have HIV or AIDS. This medicine can irritate the vagina and rectum, which may increase the risk of getting HIV or AIDS. Discuss this with your doctor if you have any questions.
If you develop any medical problem or begin using any new medicine (prescription or nonprescription) while you are using this medicine, you may want to check with your doctor.
Do not use this medicine if you or your sex partner have HIV or AIDS. This medicine can irritate the vagina and rectum, which may increase the risk of getting HIV or AIDS. Discuss this with your doctor if you have any questions.
This medicine will not protect you from getting HIV or AIDS, or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). If this is a concern for you, discuss this with your doctor.
If you have a rash or burning, itching, or other irritation of the genitals, discontinue use of the spermicide and contact your doctor. .
What should I watch for?
Visit your doctor or health care professional for regular checks on your progress.
If your doctor or health care professional instructs you to use any other medicines in the vagina while you are using this medicine, you should separate the doses by at least 6 hours.
You may notice a white discharge of medicine while using this medicine. This is normal. If it becomes bothersome, contact your doctor or health care professional.
Common and Rare Side Effects
Along with its needed effects, a medicine may cause some unwanted effects. Although not all of these side effects may occur, if they do occur they may need medical attention.
Check with your doctor immediately if any of the following side effects occur:
Signs of toxic shock syndrome—for cervical caps or diaphragms
sunburn-like skin rash that is followed by peeling of the skin
unusual redness of the inside of the nose, mouth, throat, vagina, or eyelids
Check with your doctor as soon as possible if any of the following side effects occur:
For females and males
Skin rash, redness, irritation, or itching that does not go away within a short period of time
For females only
Cloudy or bloody urine
increased frequency of urination
pain in the bladder or lower abdomen
thick, white, or curd-like vaginal discharge—with use of cervical caps or diaphragms only
vaginal irritation, redness, rash, dryness, or whitish discharge
Some side effects may occur that usually do not need medical attention. These side effects may go away during treatment as your body adjusts to the medicine. Also, your health care professional may be able to tell you about ways to prevent or reduce some of these side effects. Check with your health care professional if any of the following side effects continue or are bothersome or if you have any questions about them:
Vaginal discharge (temporary)—with use of creams, foams, and suppositories
vaginal dryness or odor
Other side effects not listed may also occur in some patients. If you notice any other effects, check with your healthcare professional.
Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.