The history of birth control shows us that spermicides have been around in some form since 1850BC, making them one of the oldest methods of contraception around. Many women and men like to use spermicide, either alone or in combination with some other form of birth control, because it is relatively inexpensive, easy to use and can be purchased without a prescription at a pharmacy. However, it is not a perfect method of birth control and can even increase your chances of contracting certain sexually transmitted diseases (also known as sexually transmitted infections).
How Spermicides Works
Regardless of which type of spermicide you buy, they all help to prevent pregnancy in the same way: by killing off sperm. In some cases, spermicide may also work as a barrier to sperm but its primary function is to kill sperm thereby preventing it from reaching and fertilizing an egg.
How Effective Is It?
As with all types of contraception, it is important to insert or apply the spermicide at the right time and in exactly the right manner in order for it to work properly. Spermicide must be used each and every time you have vaginal sex. If you have sex multiple times during the course of one evening, it is necessary to reapply the spermicide each time before you have sex. Used alone, spermicides have a fairly high failure rate, ranging anywhere from 5% to as much as 59%. However, when used with other forms of birth control, spermicides may help increase their efficacy.
In a 1995 study investigating the use of spermicide and diaphragms, researchers found that 29% of women who used just a diaphragm became pregnant over a 12-month period. Women who used a diaphragm as well as a spermicide had a pregnancy rate of 21% over the same 12-month period.
The Downside of Spermicides
While spermicide is fairly easy to obtain and use, it is not perfect. Aside from the wide range in failure rates, spermicides have been found to increase a woman's risk of urinary tract infections. Moreover, some women (and men) have experienced irritation and even allergic reactions after using spermicide. This is because of one of the main ingredients found in most spermicides: nonoxynol-9 (N9).
Although nonoxynol-9 is an FDA approved spermicide, it has been found to irritate the skin of the penis, vulva and vagina. Additionally, it has been shown to cause sores and/or stripping of the vaginal and rectal lining, with the likelihood of this happening increasing the more spermicide is used. As a result, a person's risk of contracting certain sexually transmitted diseases increases (STDs).
Spermicides and STDs
Spermicides with N9 were originally thought to prevent the spread of certain STDs. This belief was based on research done in the 1980s that showed nonoxynol-9 was able to demobilize gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, herpes simplex virus and HIV. However, these tests were done in laboratories, not on people. While further research did hint that spermicides could help reduce the transmission of STDs, current studies suggest otherwise.
The latest studies investigating N9's ability to combat STDs has shown that spermicides do not offer any protection against sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, in certain cases, it could even increase a person's risk of contracting an STD since it can cause sores in the vaginal and rectal lining thereby facilitating an infection.
Condoms containing nonoxynol-9 have not been shown to be any more effective at protecting against pregnancy and STDs than condoms without spermicide. Moreover, because of the increased risk of HIV infection, it is strongly advised against using condoms that contain spermicide during anal sex. While abstinence is the most effective way of preventing HIV and other STDs, if you do choose to be sexually active, it is necessary to use condoms as they will help to reduce your risk of STD infection.
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