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Contraceptive Foam

Foam is a vaginal spermicide which is placed into the woman's vagina using an applicator. It has two contraceptive effects: it kills or destroys sperm (which is why it is called "spermicidal") and it prevents sperm from reaching the egg by blocking the opening to the cervical canal. Among typical couples who initiate use of vaginal spermicides, about 25% will experience an accidental pregnancy in the first year. If vaginal spermicides are used consistently and correctly, about 6% of couples will become pregnant. Complete information about this contraceptive is available from your clinician or from the package insert accompanying the foam.

Advantages:

  • Foam gives the woman control over contraception.
  • It is available over the counter without a visit to a clinician.
  • Foam can be put into the vagina up to 20 minutes before sexual intercourse and is effective immediately.
  • Foam is safe. There are no hormones involved. It is immediately reversible.
  • The man's penis can remain inside the vagina after ejaculation.
  • Foam adds lubrication and moisture.

Disadvantages:

  • Contraceptive foam can be irritating to the vagina and some people feel that it is messy.
  • It may not be protective against HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). If protection against infection is important, use condoms.
  • Practice putting foam into your vagina in advance. This will make it easier at the time of intercourse.
  • Some women do not like putting an applicator into the vagina.
  • Sometimes you can't be sure if there is enough foam left in the container to provide protection during the next act of sex. Keep an extra container of foam handy.
  • The taste of foam is unpleasant.
  • The container carrying the foam is large and may be embarrassing to carry around.

Where can I purchase foam?
You can buy foam at drug stores and supermarkets.

What if I have sex and don't use birth control?
For 72 hours AFTER unprotected sex, you can take emergency contraceptive pills to avoid becoming pregnant. For up to 7 days AFTER unprotected sex, you can have an IUD put in. Not all clinicians know about emergency contraception. If you want more information or would like the phone numbers of clinicians near you who prescribe emergency birth control, CALL the toll-free hotline 1-888-NOT-2-LATE or 1-800-584-9911. Some of these sources of help are free.

These materials were written by Robert A. Hatcher, MD, MPH, Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Emory University School of Medicine.

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