World Contraception Day 2017: Can spermicides alone prevent pregnancy?

For best results, use spermicide + condoms says expert.

From time immemorial, women have always had to bear the brunt of ensuring protection during sex, even though the repercussions affect both. That apart, most men also constantly complain about having to use condoms during sex, saying that it reduces sensation during intercourse. It's a catch 22 situation for women because, while the partner's pleasure is important, there is also the threat of an unwanted pregnancy looming large without the use of condoms. Often, reluctantly, women resort to using spermicide at their partner's insistence as the only method of birth control. But the question is whether spermicide alone can ward off pregnancy.

What are spermicides?

Spermicide is a contraceptive substance that literally 'kills' sperm cells. Available in the form of suppositories, gels, jellies, films and foams, spermicide is inserted into the vagina before sex. The commonest active ingredient used in spermicides is nonoxynol-9. Spermicides are almost never used on their own and they are usually used with barrier methods like contraceptive sponges, diaphragms and condoms. Although herbal spermicides like neem and datura have been used in the Indian subcontinent for ages, most people prefer the chemical ones.

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Can spermicide alone be used for protection against pregnancy?

Going by research, the failure rate of spermicide, if used correctly, is 18 percent year. Otherwise, the failure rate is 28 percent per year.1Dr Bandita Sinha, gynaecologist and fertility specialist, director, World of Women, Vashi says, "Using spermicide alone will not give you 100 percent protection. Since the failure rate is high, it is not advisable to use spermicides on their own. Even condoms have a better success rate than spermicides."

"Efficiency of spermicides will also depend on how it is applied. For best results, it is wiser to use spermicides along with another method of contraception, like condoms," she adds.

To maximise the effectiveness of your chosen contraceptive, remember that the whole is always better than the sum of its parts. If used individually, spermicides and condoms only provide moderate efficiency. Research2 also proves that the combined effect of condom and spermicide is better. In addition to protecting you from unwanted pregnancies, condom use can offer protection from STDs and HIV infections.


1.Trussell, J. (2007). Contraceptive efficacy. Contraceptive technology, 18, 773-845.

2.Kestelman P, Trussell J. Efficacy of the simultaneous use of condoms and spermicides. Fam Plann Perspect. 1991 Sep-Oct;23(5):226-7, 232. PubMed PMID: 1743276.

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