It's certainly not uncommon to become fed up with birth control pills, and wonder if jellies, foams, condoms, and sponges containing spermicides would be a great alternative.

Yet it turns out that some foams, films, and so forth contain the spermicide N-9, the short name for nonoxynol-9. Although it was once believed that N-9 could protect against HIV, it now appears that N-9 may even increase a person's risk, according to a report on NPR.

A variety of foams, jellies, condoms, and sponges made with the N-9 spermicide are sold online and do not require a prescription, according to NPR. They're safe, medical professionals say, when used as directed. They should not be used for anal intercourse or with a partner infected with HIV.

"One of the risks that everybody who uses a spermicide should be aware of is that if there is a likelihood that your partner may have one of these sexually transmitted diseases, then it probably should be used with caution," said Michael Rosenberg, a former researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to NPR. "A product like this is probably best used with a couple who is monogamous."

So why is caution advisable?

"The N-9, while is seems to inhibit classical STD pathogens like chlamydia and gonorrhea, may increase the risk of HIV acquisition," explains Michael Augenbraun, MD, chief of infectious diseases at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.

Why would using a spermicide make an individual more vulnerable to HIV?

"Spermicides can irritate the lining and delicate cells in the vagina," says Bruce Hirsch, MD, attending physician in infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York.

 And the spermicide can make the cells more vulnerable to an attack by viruses as well as bacteria.

Explains Rosenberg, according to NPR: "Nonoxynol-9 is a detergent and what that means is that it disrupts the layers of the cell membranes. When you use it frequently, it can actually erode a lot of the cells that are present that help protect against diseases."

For women in a longterm monogamous relationship, the spermicide does not pose a problem. For women at high risk for HIV (such as those with HIV-infected partners), the spermicide is not recommended.

To protect yourself:

● Make sure you know the clinical status of anyone you have sex with.

● Don't use a spermicide unless you have one long-term sexual partner who does not have HIV.

● Educate yourself about birth control methods to find the one that's right for you.


Kroen, Gretchen Cuda. "What spermicide users should know but often don't." 6 February 2012. NPR.