Nonoxynol-9 and STDs: The dangers of using spermicide

Spermicide is often found in condoms these days. As the name states, spermicide is formulated to kill sperm, so it is useful particularly when trying to prevent pregnancy. However, like with all things in life, it is important to learn about its downsides and possible dangers.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has previously issued warnings about certain spermicides, in particular nonoxynol-9, which also happens to be the most common spermicide. This spermicide is commonly used in condoms as well as a variety of sexual lubricants and products. The CDC has warned that nonoxynol-9 is ineffective against sexually transmitted diseases, specifically HIV/AIDS. The CDC warned that there is no benefit in using this spermicide for STD prevention. They also discussed that there are risks involved with using nonoxynol-9.

The particular study they used to come to this conclusion was done in Africa, where almost 1000 women who were HIV negative were given spermicidal gels to use. Some of them were given nonoxynol-9 and some were given a placebo gel instead. After the study was concluded, the women who used the nonoxynol-9 had a 50% higher incidence of HIV infection than those who used the placebo gel. In addition, women who used just the nonoxynol-9 gel without a condom had an even higher risk of being infected with HIV. Researchers therefore concluded that the spermicide does not offer any protection at all against HIV.

In adition, this particular spermicide also has other risks. Nonoxynol-9 has been blamed for stripping away a significant amount of rectal lining when used during anal sex. Furthermore, in studies, the lubricant not containing nonoxynol-9 had no negative effects on the rectal lining.

gynol spermicidal lubeThough nonoxynol-9 has never been recommended by the FDA for protection against HIV infection, this has not stopped many condom manufacturers from including it in condoms. Initially, nonoxynol-9 was thought to kill HIV when tests were conducted in test tubes. It did indeed kill HIV when exposed inside of a test tube; however, it is important to note that human vaginas and rectums are home to extremely sensitive tissues, which are quite unlike test tubes.

Moreover, some users have reported skin reactions including rashes and skin irritations. Some women have even reported vaginal irritations including vaginal lesions as the substance has shown to possibly damage the vaginal lining. It has also shown to cause inflammation of the cervix and vagina in some women, with the potential to kill layers of internal cells. In women, this risk can be particularly serious, even resulting in increased risk of contracting infections and also transmitting infections to a partner. Consistent use of nonoxynol-9 may actually increase a person’s risk of contracting infections like herpes and HIV.

Nonoxynol-9 has also not proven to be effective against pregnancy in some studies. An estimated 28% of women who used just nonoxynol-9 to prevent pregnancy got pregnant in their first year of use.

What exactly is in nonoxynol-9 that can be so problematic? Nonoxynol-9 is actually a detergent of sorts. The substance disrupts the plasma membranes of cells, including sperm. Detergents, by nature, can be quite harsh, especially to sensitive people.

Spermicides such as nonoxynol-9 have also been shown to increase the risk of urinary tract infections, mainly due to the skin irritation and rashes sometimes caused by their use. Even upon first use, vaginal irritations, burning, and inflammation can result. As if that were not enough, nonoxynol-9 can also cause allergic reactions.

In fact, nonoxynol-9 has caused so many issues that the FDA now requires products containing it to be labeled with warnings that state nonoxynol-9 does not provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases or HIV and that vaginal and rectal irritation may occur. In addition, a label must state that its use can increase the chance of contracting HIV/AIDS.

So what can you do instead of using nonoxynol-9? If your main concern is preventing pregnancy, then birth control methods like a diaphragm or IUD can be quite effective. If you are primarily concerned about protecting yourself from sexually transmitted diseases, then consider using condoms which have not been treated with nonoxynol-9. If you want to cover both possibilities, then condoms are a great choice. With condoms, not only do you benefit from the barrier of protection against STDs but they also put a stop to sperm entering the uterus, thus effectively preventing pregnancy.


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