Women's Health Matters

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Spermicides are chemicals that kill sperm. They can be inserted into the vagina. Spermicides alone are not a very effective method of birth control. When used perfectly, spermicides have a 15 per cent failure rate. In typical use, the failure rate is 29 per cent. Combining spermicides with other birth control methods (like condoms or cervical barriers) makes your protection more reliable.

How to use spermicides

Spermicides are sold in many forms including:

  • foams
  • creams
  • jellies
  • tablets (to be inserted vaginally!)
  • suppositories
  • spermicidal films

They are also the active part of a contraceptive sponge.

Each of these products has different instructions. Read the package carefully for information about how to use this form of birth control. Look for information about:

  • using the product
  • how long before sex to insert it
  • how long it lasts


  • don't have to visit a doctor or clinic to get this form of birth control
  • easily available in drugs stores and clinics
  • can be used with other methods of birth control
  • your partner is not involved in this method of birth control
  • does not cause any hormonal changes in your body
  • you only use it when you need it


  • not very effective when used alone
  • spermicides cause irritation in some women
    (Sometimes changing brands will help.)
  • vaginal irritation can increase your risk of some sexually transmitted or vaginal infections
  • spermicides often taste bad
  • you may have to interrupt sex to use spermicides
  • some methods are messy
  • you must plan ahead before you have sex
  • some women are uncomfortable inserting it into their vagina
  • can be expensive



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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital