I came across an article called “What Spermicide Users Should Know, But Often Don’t” by Gretchen Cuda Kroen the other day that reminded me of the downsides to spermicides, specifically nonoxynol-9. While nonoxynol-9 is very effective at helping to prevent pregnancy and STIs, it can also have some negative effects. Studies have shown that nonoxynol-9 may leave its users more susceptible to HIV. Also, more and more people are reporting have sensitivity issues to it. These sensitivity issues can be mild and somewhat annoying to pretty bad (for example, some people have developed rashes, severe itching, etc.) Also, the amount of nonoxynol-9 that stays on the condom isn’t as much as if someone would add some spermicide on their own – so if you do prefer spermicide as your method of birth control, just know that you can easily add a dab of spermicide to the inside and outside of the condom.
While I personally don’t think that we should dismiss nonoxynol-9 altogether, I’m not sure why it’s so commonly applied to condoms in the US. If you’re a condom user, think about the last time that you used condoms. Did they have nonoxynol-9 on them? If you have some near you, go ahead and check – I’ll wait. I do an activity in the Human Sexuality classes I teach that involves my students bringing 2 condoms (any 2) to class. I ask student to volunteer some information, such as where they got the condoms, how they felt when they got them (some report being embarrassed and one told the class that he stole the condoms!), what type of condoms, is there anything special or interesting about the condoms, etc. I try to bring a few types of condoms with me and this past fall, I actually had to go to two different drug stores to find some condoms that didn’t have nonoxynol-9. To be fair, the first drug store is rather small and had a very limited selection. A friend of mine has an allergy to nonoxynol-9 and a latex sensitivity, and her favorite place to condom shop is a gas station where she gets Skyn condoms in a 3 pack (I’ve suggested she check out some websites, but she prefers the gas station).
So, when my students brought in their condoms this fall, I asked all of the classes to raise their hand if the condoms contained nonoxynol-9. I had expected a lot of the students to raise their hands, but between all of the sections that I taught, it was close to 95%. For the next week or two, any time I was in a drug store, grocery, or Target, I checked out their condom aisle and took a mental inventory of how many condoms contained nonoxynol-9, as well as the selection. One of the places I grew up was a good 20 minutes from a drug store. And that drug store closed around 8pm every night, except for Sundays. I happen to be lucky that I know live in a rather decently sized city and if either of the two drugstore within walking distance of me don’t have what I need (whether it’s a condom without nonoxynol-9 or a Lara Bar), I can easily drive to one of many other stores in my area. I have a credit card, so I could also order online. However, what if I wasn’t this lucky and was back living 20 minutes away from a store that closes early? Why not just stop putting nonoxynol-9 on so many condoms? If we can make vibrating cock rings to put in drug stores in the condom aisle, certainly we can offer a better condom selection (especially since condoms are great at offering protection from STIs and pregnancy).
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