Thing What I Didn’t Know Yesterday #2: What Actually IS ‘Spermicidal Lubricant’ and Why Do All Teen US Novels Refer to It?

If, like me, you loved reading teen YA books like The Princess Diaries as a kid (or still do, no judging here!) you’ll probably have wondered this at some point – what the HELL is spermicidal lubricant? And why do the US have it, but we don’t?


Contraception is important, we all know this. And so, I’ve always low-key wondered why we don’t have this particular type. Is it banned in the UK? Is it not effective? Hold on tight kids, you’re about to find out yet another thing you didn’t need to know in today’s episode of Thing What I Did Not Know Yesterday…..


Spermicidal lubricant is basically a chemical that kills sperm, and they’re commonly just referred to as spermicides. Like you’d say pesticide. Or homicide. Mmmm, sounds inviting, right?


Different types are available across America, Canada and Europe although it seems that an awful lot of them have been removed from sale over the years, due to research not being kept up to date. If you had a spermicide and wanted to use it to prevent pregnancy, you would stick it up your vag just before having sex.


HOWEVER, it’s been proven that using just a spermicide is only 70-80% effective at preventing a pregnancy, and healthcare professionals would recommend using other precautions, such as condoms.


They did once manufacture condoms with spermicide in them, but these are no longer common as they cause an increased chance of UTI’s in women (no thank you!) as well as causing the condoms to have a shorter expiry date. There’s also a lot of documentation that shows that spermicides can cause unpleasant itching and rashes in both men and women.


As far as I can tell, there is only one spermicide available on prescription in the UK, which is sold under the brand name Gygel and contains Nonoxinol-9 as its active ingredient. It is used in conjunction with ‘spermicidal diaphragm’ or ‘cap’, which was more common in the 80s and is another practice that has since fallen out of use.


The reason I’ve never heard of spermicides before reading these teen novels is perhaps the fact that Britain seems to have wised up quicker than the US on the poor effectiveness and problematic side-effects associated with the use of chemicals such as Nonoxinol-9. As well as this, spermicides offer absolutely no protection from STD’s. There’s also this fun nugget of information:


“High frequency use of nonoxinol-9 has been reported to cause epithelial damage and increase the risk of HIV infection.”


From <>

A survey from 2013 showed that use of spermicides plummeted quickly as advances in contraception came along in the late 90s and 00s with 84,000 women using spermicides in 1997 to just 6,000 in 2013. ( I’d imagine that number has fallen yet again in the past few years as well.


I think perhaps another factor at play here is the NHS, of which America has no equivalent. If you want anything other than a condom in the UK, you have to go via the NHS, and (hopefully) there is no doctor around who would confidently prescribe something with only 80% effectiveness and poor side-effects when there are pills which are 99% effective! (Side note: should I do a blog post sometime talking about all the contraceptives I’ve tried in the past? I’ve tried almost ALL of them as I’m on them for medical reasons. Would this be useful or interesting?)

The original ‘The Princess Diaries’ series was published between 2000 and 2009, with the discussions of sex between the two main characters happening in the later books, which surprises me. By this point, it was becoming really quite obvious that spermicides were bad news, but I’ll simply never know if Meg Cabot was behind the times, or if spermicidal lubricant was still prevalent in American culture for much longer than it was in the UK.



And there you have it. Never try spermicidal lubricant, folks! Not that you’d be able to get your hands on it anyway, by the sounds of it!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and I’ll see you again real soon. P.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Charlotte says:

    I think you should definitely do a post on the other types of contraceptive, as much information out there about it the better!! Spermicide sounds actually grim, I’m so glad that’s no longer a thing, imagine squirting that up inside you before sex, not exactly the sexiest move! Although to be fair, they say the pill is 99% effective but most of the time its about 10% less than this because it’s not used perfectly. Similar thing with condoms, which is pretty scary!


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