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Friday, February 13, 2009

Chemical contraceptives

*Spermicides (that is, chemicals which destroy sperms) were quite widely used until recently. One advantage of these products is that you can buy them from any pharmacy without prescription. But these agents really shouldn't be employed on their own, because they're not effective enough. If you use them by themselves, there's a high chance that sperm will get through sometimes - and cause pregnancy. So, all family planning experts agree that chemical contraception should only be used in combination with a 'barrier method' - such as a condom, diaphragm or a cap. The chemicals make these barrier methods more effective.

In other words, fewer pregnancies will occur if you use a condom, diaphragm or cap with a spermicidal chemical. From time to time, manufacturers may suggest that these agents are so good that they can be used on their own! Don't pay any attention to these claims. However, if you’re both really desperate to make love, then a chemical contraceptive is certainly better than nothing at all.

How do chemical contraceptives work?

They mainly work by killing sperm inside the vagina. They do this because they contain a spermicide - that is, an agent which attacks sperm. The commonest spermicide used in these products is called nonoxinol-‘9’. How do you use them?You put them into the vagina before intercourse. Either the woman or the man can do this. Some couples actually make it part of love play! In the case of solid preparations, you must give them time (say, 30 minutes) to dissolve before you start having sex. Follow the instructions on the leaflet in the package.

What types of chemical contraceptives are there?
There are various kinds and which one you choose is up to you. Generally people make their choice on the basis of what appeals to them aesthetically. For instance, one couple may prefer the feel, appearance and taste of foam, while others prefer the simplicity of a vaginal tablet.

The main types are as follows.
*Foams - These are in aerosol form and you insert them into the vagina with a special applicator, immediately before sex.

*Vaginal tablets - These are also widely known as pessaries. In some books about sex, you may still find them referred to as 'suppositories'. This term has now been dropped - because most people understand the word 'suppository' to mean something put into the rectum. As they’re solid, you must give them time (half an hour) to dissolve before you nake love.

*Gels, jellies and creams - These are mainly intended for spreading onto contraceptive diaphragms or caps before insertion.

*Films - Squares of contraceptive film are still marketed in some countries, though they have fallen out of favour in the UK. At one time, manufacturers suggested that the film should be put on the tip of the penis before the start of intercourse. This is very risky, and I do not recommend it! It will probably fall off.

*Sponges - Sponges containing spermicide were popular back in the 1990s but have now rather dropped out of fashion in Western countries, due to a high pregnancy rate (24 per cent in one recent trial). A new type of sponge is due to be marketed in the UK during 2006, and it could certainly be of help to women whose fertility is already low - for instance, those over the age of 45, and breastfeeding mothers.

Can chemicals harm you?

Various fragrances, colourings and other components are contained in spermicidal products. Not surprisingly, both men and women can become allergic to these ingredients. Symptoms of allergy include soreness, swelling, redness and itching. If allergy occurs, take medical advice and then switch to another product (or method).Nonoxinol-‘9’ has recently been shown to cause vaginal irritation in some women who use a great deal over a long period of time. But unless you are having sex all day long, this is unlikely to apply to you.At present, there is no information as to whether spermicidal products could harm a baby, if pregnancy occurred. Please note that in some countries, pharmacists may still be selling old-fashioned spermicidal products which can attack rubber. These products, which are mainly oil-based, could make holes in rubber condoms or caps.

Will spermicidal chemicals protect you against disease?

No. There has been some publicity about the fact that nonoxinol-'9' has an anti-germ action. Nonetheless, it cannot give you any worthwhile protection against chlamydia, HIV or other sex infections.

Will spermicidal chemicals last all night?

No. In general, spermicides are only effective for about 45 to 60 minutes. If you go on having sex longer than that (or if you have sex twice), you need to insert a top-up of spermicide.What brands are available?This varies from country to country. The only brand on sale in the UK in 2008 is Gygel, which is a gel that won't harm condoms, diaphragms or caps.

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