Spermicide May Contribute To STD Infections

We’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about the negative effects of spermicide and thought we’d publish a brief reminder on the topic.


The Facts

Spermicide is a gel or cream that is responsible for killing sperm. This gel can be found in the lubricants of some condoms, or it can be bought on its own from a pharmacy and placed inside of the vagina.

The active ingredient in spermicide is a chemical called nonoxynol-9. This chemical basically attacks sperm, immobilizing it before it can move up past the cervix and fertilize an egg cell. Because of this, it’s often recommended to be used in conjunction with a diaphragm as a sort of double layer of protection, or with condoms in case the condom breaks.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Nonoxynol-9 is also the main ingredient in vaginal contraceptive film.

These are the condoms we carry that have spermicide in their lubes:

The Problem

As early as 1991, studies were finding that spermicide was a harmful irritant to vaginal membranes. A mild irritant may not seem like such a big problem, especially with all the unsafe lube ingredients out there, but the true problem lies in how nonoxynol-9 irritates the membranes.

This chemical opens microtears in such sensitive tissues, opening blood vessels– the body’s transport system– up to harmful bacteria and even potentially viruses, if one partner is infected. In fact, another study later found that female sex workers in multiple regions in Africa who used spermicide exclusively had a much higher rate of HIV than those who used other forms of contraception– in fact, they were about 50% more likely to be infected.

That same study also noted that these women were very likely to have HPV and that the microtears the spermicide was causing on either genitalia put them and their partners at a much higher risk of contracting and passing along the disease.

This risk is compounded even further when these condoms are used for anal sex. The anus is very fragile to tears already, and so even avoiding that with ample lubrication can still put you a risk for infection due to the amount of bacteria that lives there. Check out our list of Five Best Condoms For Anal instead.


Image via Cyclebeads.com

To top it off, spermicide, when used on it’s own, isn’t particularly effective against pregnancy. When used on its own (meaning without a condom or other contraceptive device or medication), spermicide has a failure rate that ranges between 10-29%, making it less effective than both condoms and hormonal birth control.

The Condom Depot Stance

Many companies actually stopped carrying spermicide after these studies were published. Durex discontinued their line of spermicidal condoms in 2004 following the release of a report from the World Health Organization concerning the findings above. Lifestyles only carries two different types of spermicidal condoms and for the most part, these condoms can no longer be found in stores. Kimono even voluntarily destroyed their spermicidal stock– 1,000,000 condoms.

So why are they still even on the market? The short answer is that not enough people are educated about the risks they could be taking by using spermicide or spermicidal condoms.

We here at Condom Depot have contracts with the manufacturers of these condoms which means we have to sell certain products in order to continue selling the products you love. This is why we pepper the pages of our spermicidal condoms with consumer alerts so that you stay as informed about your purchases as possible.

nonoxynol warning

In fact, you may remember our consumer alert about Trojan’s Ice and Fire condoms making some headway a few months ago. One of the reasons so many people were having negative reactions to the Fire and Ice condoms was due to the fact that they not only contain spermicide, but also capsaicin. Capsaicin is a warming agent found in many warming lubes and condoms. For the most part, it’s subtle and rarely uncomfortable, but when paired with the micro-tears caused by spermicide, it can become very painful.

You have a right to buy spermicidal condoms if that’s what you choose to protect yourself. But you also have a right to correct, reliable information. We hope to provide you with both, even though we recommend using spermicidal condoms only when there is no other contraception option available.

[Sources: CDC, WHO, NPR.]

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About Sam

Sam is an award-winning writer who has lived just about everywhere, but is originally out of Washington State. She likes studying the history and culture of human sexuality, promoting safer and healthy sex practices, making dirty puns and hot sauces. Her favorite place in the world is Taco Bell and she's really obsessed with The Lord of the Rings. Have any questions that'd make your sex ed teacher blush? Send them her way to get the full disclosure.