Birth control gel: an expert weighs in

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Birth control gel, also called contraceptive gel, is a general term for a hormone-free substance that is used in the vagina to prevent pregnancy. Depending on the type, this form of contraception works either by maintaining the vagina’s normal acidic pH and by deactivating or destroying sperm.

A new contraceptive gel called Phexxi recently became available in the United States. This is a gel that is placed in the vagina before penis-in-vagina sex.

Phexxi prevents the change in vaginal pH that occurs when introducing sperm. This makes it difficult for the sperm to travel and fertilize an egg.

Spermicide is a similar type of birth control that comes in several forms, such as: B. foams, jellies, suppositories, tablets and films. It is usually inserted into the vagina with an applicator. The substance makes it difficult for the sperm to reach an egg cell.

The only spermicide available in the US is nonoxynol-9, which can be used alone or in combination with other barrier methods such as condoms.

According to the manufacturer, Phexxi alone is 93 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, and 86 percent with typical use as directed by a doctor.

For comparison: According to a review of 14 studies from 2013, spermicides are around 70 to 80 percent effective when used without other methods of contraception. However, the researchers found a wide range of effectiveness as many of the study participants had not completed the studies, which could have skewed the results.

I usually tell people that the most effective method of birth control is the one that you use correctly and consistently. However, if you do a statistical comparison with some other methods, the contraceptive gels are much less effective than IUDs and hormonal implants.

Using a condom, diaphragm, or cap with the contraceptive gel can reduce the chance of pregnancy. If your main goal is to prevent pregnancy, it may be worthwhile to consider more effective methods.

The advantages of birth control gel are that it is non-hormonal and allows you to use it whenever you want. You don’t have to worry if you don’t want to have sex. Using a gel or foam also gives you the added benefit of a lubricant.

On the other hand, you need to plan ahead if you want to use the contraceptive gel. While most spermicides are available over the counter, Phexxi requires a prescription. You must also remember to insert the contraceptive gel into the vagina before sex with the penis while in the vagina.

The birth control gel can also cause bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, genital discomfort (for one or both partners!), And a burning sensation in the area.

There have also been reports of urinary tract infections (UTI) and kidney infections in people who have used Phexxi. The birth control gel alone will not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but use with barrier methods (such as a condom) can prevent STIs.

No, there is no such thing as a lubricant with spermicidal properties. While there is data to show that some lubricants for people trying to conceive may not be best for sperm, a lubricant that does not contain a spermicide is in and of itself not effective at preventing pregnancy.

With Phexxi, use a pre-filled applicator to apply the gel into the vagina immediately before or up to 1 hour before sex with the penis in the vagina.

If more than an hour has passed, you will need to reapply the gel. Even if there is to be another round of penis-in-vagina sex, Phexxi must be reapplied.

For spermicides, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how quickly to apply before sex as these can vary depending on the type used.

You can use many other types of contraception with contraceptive gel to reduce your risk of becoming pregnant.

Just like with spermicides, Phexxi can be used with other barrier methods such as condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps. And you can use it with the pill, the patch, the hormone implant and the IUDs.

The only major exception is that vaginal rings should be avoided when using Phexxi.

To get Phexxi you will need a prescription from a doctor. Alternatively, spermicides are available at your local pharmacy or wherever sexual wellness products are sold.

Anyone using a vaginal ring for birth control should avoid using contraceptive gel. You should also not use Phexxi if you are prone to urinary tract infections or have urinary tract abnormalities.

People who are sensitive or allergic to the active ingredients of Phexxi (lactic acid, citric acid and potassium bitartrate) or other ingredients in the gel should avoid using the gel.


Dr. Carolyn Kay is an obstetrician and gynecologist with a special interest in reproductive health and family planning. Dr. Kay received her MD from the State University of New York at Upstate Medical University. She completed her residency at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine.



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