Spermicides such as Nonoxynol-9 (or N-9) has long been used as a method of contraception, even though there is little information on the true efficacy of spermicides used on their own. They are available in various forms – cream, foam, gel, film and pessaries. They are usually used with another method of contraception such as the diaphragm and the cervical cap. They are also applied to certain makes of condoms, although there is no evidence that condoms lubricated with N-9 are more effective in preventing pregnancy than lubricated condoms without N-9. Spermicides inactivate sperm by causing changes in the cell membrane of the spermatozoa. They are believed to be of only moderate efficacy as a contraceptive. Limited evidence suggests that the contraceptive effectiveness of the diaphragm and cervical cap may be moderately more effective when used with a spermicide than without. 

Spermicide can be bought from a pharmacy over-the-counter without a doctor’s prescription. Originally Nonoxynol-9 was thought of as a breakthrough in the prevention of HIV because it was capable of “killing” (damaging) the virus. However, recent research has shown that the use of Nonoxynol-9, which is a kind of detergent, can irritate and disrupt the cell lining (epithelium) of the vagina and rectum that is present to help protect against diseases. This can cause small cuts, eroding the body’s own protective layers, further leaving a person open to HIV and other sexually transmitted pathogens. Therefore, it can also increase the risk of Sexually Acquired Infections including HIV infection.

Therefore, while being very effective at helping to prevent an unplanned pregnancy, spermicide is recommended for women who are in a monogamous relationship, and it is only recommended for once a day use at most. Those who are not in a monogamous relationship should use condoms for better protection against pregnancy, HIV and other Sexually Acquired Infections. Nonoxynol-9 should not be used rectally in the form of a cream, foam, gel, film and pessaries.



  • Perceived as messy
  • Local allergic reaction
  • Only of moderate contraceptive efficacy on its own



  • Provides lubrication
  • Easily available
  • May provide protection against Sexually Acquired Infections and HIV
  • Can be used in conjunction with the barrier methods of contraception.


Absolute contraindication

  • Allergic reaction to spermicides


Side effect

  • Local irritation


For more information on spermicides please view also sections on male condoms, cervical cap and the diaphragm.