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About Spermicide

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Talking to your kids about sex can be daunting, no matter how close you are. But discussing issues like abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and birth control can help lower teens' risk of an unintended pregnancy or contracting an STD.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports sex education that includes information about both abstinence and birth control. Research has shown that this information doesn't increase kids' level of sexual activity, but actually promotes and increases the proper use of birth control methods among sexually active teens.

How and when you discuss sex and birth control is up to you. Providing the facts is vital, but it's also wise to tell your kids where you stand. Remember, by approaching these issues like any other health topics, not as something dirty or embarrassing, you increase the odds that your kids will feel comfortable coming to you with any questions and problems. As awkward as it might feel, answer questions honestly. And if you don't know the answers, it's OK to say so, then find out and report back.

If you have questions about how to talk with your son or daughter about sex, consider consulting your doctor. Lots of parents find this tough to tackle, and a doctor may offer some helpful perspective.

What Is Spermicide?

Spermicides come in several different forms: cream, gel, foam, film, and suppositories. Most spermicides contain nonoxynol-9, a chemical that kills sperm. Spermicides can be used alone but are more effective when used with another method of birth control, such as a condom or diaphragm.

How Does Spermicide Work?

Spermicides immobilize and kill the sperm before they are able to swim into the uterus. To be effective, the spermicide must be placed deep in the vagina close to the cervix. Creams, gels, and foams are squirted into the vagina using an applicator. Other types of spermicides include vaginal contraceptive film (VCF), a thin sheet placed in the back of vagina by hand, and vaginal suppositories.

Spermicides must be placed in the vagina before sexual intercourse. The instructions will say how long before sex the spermicide should be used. Some offer protection right away but most must be placed in the vagina at least 15 minutes before sex so they have enough time to dissolve and spread. All forms of spermicides are only effective for 1 hour after they are inserted. Another application of spermicide is needed if more than 1 hour passes before sex, as well as before repeated sex. Douche should not be used for at least 6 hours after sex with spermicide use.

How Well Does Spermicide Work?

Over the course of a year, about 29 out of 100 typical couples who rely on spermicide alone to prevent pregnancy will have an accidental pregnancy. Of course, this is an average figure and the chance of getting pregnant depends on whether spermicide is used correctly and consistently.

Spermicides are not as effective on their own as other types of birth control and work best when used in combination with another form of birth control. However, they are convenient, inexpensive, and easy to use.

Protection Against STDs

Spermicide does not protect against STDs. Couples having sex must always use condoms to protect against STDs.

Abstinence (not having sex) is the only method that always prevents pregnancy and STDs.

Possible Side Effects

Spermicides may irritate the vagina and surrounding skin. This irritation may make it easier to be infected with STDs like HIV. Another possible side effect is recurrent urinary tract infections because the spermicide can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in a girl's body.

Who Uses Spermicide?

Couples who can take responsibility for planning birth control in advance of having sex and those using condoms or other barrier methods of contraception who want extra protection against pregnancy use spermicides.

Where Is Spermicide Available?

Spermicides are available without a prescription and are found in drugstores and some supermarkets. (In some stores, they're in the "Family Planning" aisle.) They're often found near the condoms and feminine hygiene products. Care should be taken when choosing a spermicide — the packages may look like those of some feminine hygiene products, such as douches or washes, which don't provide any birth control protection at all.

How Much Does Spermicide Cost?

Depending on the type of spermicide chosen (film is more expensive than gel), spermicide costs only about $0.50 to $1.50 per use.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: September 2009

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

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