Definition Spermicides are chemicals placed in the vagina that kill sperm. The spermicides are placed inside the vagina close to the cervix. Spermicides are manufactured as a cream, foam, jelly, and suppository or on a plastic film.
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In addition to killing sperm, spermicides can block sperm from entering the cervical canal. The most frequently used spermicides in Australia contain nonoxynol 9.
Spermicides may be used alone but are more effective with a diaphragm or condom. Some of the foam tablets and suppositories need a few minutes to spread properly within the vagina. It is important to read the instructions for each individual product. Pregnancy may occur if the spermicide is not spread properly.
When used alone, spermicides have a relatively high failure rate. Spermicides do not guarantee that pregnancy will not occur. Failure rates decrease when spermicides are used with a condom or diaphragm. The only guarantee against pregnancy is abstinence, which means no sexual intercourse.
Sometimes women and men develop allergic reactions to the spermicide. These symptoms include irritation and burning with use.
Some concerns about spermicides were raised in the past. It was thought that there was a possible risk of congenital disorders in babies whose mothers used spermicides. The studies that raised these concerns used small numbers of research subjects. The results have not been proven by larger, well-researched studies.
Spermicides do not effectively protect against the transmission of STDs and transmission of the HIV virus.
Author: Eva Martin, MD Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia Last Updated: 1/10/2001 Contributors Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request
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