Spermicides have been used for thousands of years and they were mentioned as early as 1825 BC in the ancient Egyptian Kahun Papyrus. The papyrus, which provides detailed gynecological information, recommends a spermicide made of crocodile dung, honey and sour milk. Modern spermicides were introduced in the 1950s and many still contain the same chemical agents, like nonoxynol-9, that were used more than 50 years ago. These are the chemicals that can cause vaginal reactions.
Spermicides, a form of birth control inserted in the vagina, contain chemicals that make sperm inactive so that it cannot pass through your cervix to fertilize an egg. Spermicides are available as creams, gels, films, foams or sponges. Spermicides can be used alone or in conjunction with other birth control methods like condoms, diaphragms or cervical caps.
Reaction to spermicides is common, especially if the spermicide contains the chemical nonoxynol-9 (N-9), according to YourContraception.com. The most frequent reactions include vaginal irritation, itching, discharge, soreness and rash. Severe reactions can result in vaginal ulcerations. Additionally, the spermicides can change your vaginal pH balance and cause yeast, bladder or urinary tract infections. The possibility of having a reaction increases with the amount of spermicide you use and how frequently you use it.
Other Health Risks
There are indications that vaginal irritation caused by the spermicides could increase the risk of more serious infections, according to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. This is because the small breaks in the irritated skin may allow bacteria, viruses or microorganisms to enter your body. This puts you at greater risk for all sexually transmitted diseases, including Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). “Frequent use of spermicides containing N-9 has been associated with genital lesions, which may be associated with an increased risk of HIV transmission,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you are prone to bladder, urinary tract or vaginal infections or if you have intercourse frequently, you have an increased risk of having adverse reaction to spermicides. To avoid side effects, some doctors recommend using the spermicides no more than three times a month. You should also consider a different birth control method if you have multiple sexual partners because of the increased risk of developing a sexually transmitted disease.
Potential side effects are one consideration when deciding on a birth control method, but the availability, ease of use and effectiveness should also be considered. The advantages of spermicides are that they are easy to use, inexpensive and available at most pharmacies and grocery stores without a prescription. The major disadvantage is that they are not as effective as other birth control methods. Used perfectly, spermicides only have an effectiveness rate of 85 percent and this rating can fall to 81 percent if you do not use them exactly as recommended.