By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Apr 26, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Is vaginal contraceptive film as effective as a condom?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 26 Apr. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/vaginal-contraceptive-film-effective-condom. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, April 26). Is vaginal contraceptive film as effective as a condom?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/vaginal-contraceptive-film-effective-condom.

Dear Alice,

I have recently become aware of the vaginal contraceptive film (VCF) and am wondering about its effectiveness. We are currently using condoms, but my husband is not thrilled with them. Is the VCF as effective as the condom to use by itself?

Dear Reader, 

Choosing a contraceptive method that works for you and your husband is a decision that involves many factors, such as satisfaction, sensation, and whether you’re trying to actively prevent pregnancy and protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). As a whole, when comparing vaginal contraceptive film with condoms, vaginal contraceptive film is less effective. However, there are nuances between perfect use and typical use, which may also affect your choices. 

The vaginal contraceptive film (VCF) is a small, flexible, film-like sheet that contains spermicide and prevents pregnancy by limiting the ability of sperm to reach an egg. VCF is placed on or near the cervix around 15 minutes before sex, so the sheet has time to break down into a gel and the spermicide has time to release. It’s recommended to insert a new film after one hour if you’re still having sex. You may also want to use a new VCF for each time you have vaginal sex, even if it’s within the same encounter. Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water and drying them fully before inserting VCF can help to prevent infection. 

On average, 72 percent of people using VCF will not become pregnant with typical use for one year. Typical use takes into account human error which could include not giving the sheet enough time to break down, placing it incorrectly, or not replacing the film after an hour of use. When using it exactly as intended every time you have sex—also known as “perfect use”—, VCF is up to 84 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Combining VCF with other barrier methods like condoms can also help provide even more protection. 

Condoms, both internal and external, block sperm from reaching an egg. Condoms are also the only form of contraception that protects against STIs. External condoms are more commonly known and are worn over the penis. They’re about 88 percent effective on their own in preventing pregnancy when accounting for human error. In contrast, internal condoms are placed inside the vagina before sex and are up to 79 percent effective on their own. While you can’t use internal and external condoms together, internal condoms could be an alternative to VCF. Additionally, emergency contraception is available if a condom rips during sex. 

If VCF or condoms don’t feel like feasible options, you may consider other alternatives such as: 

  • Phexxi, a vaginal contraceptive gel very similar to VCF that must be inserted with an applicator before sex. 
  • Other barrier methods (such as the diaphragm or cervical cap) which are described in more depth in the Birth Control Options - Barrier Methods fact sheet
  • Medications or hormonal methods, such as the birth control pill or intrauterine devices (IUDs). 
  • Surgical options, which may require consultation with your health care provider 
  • Lifestyle options, such as abstinence or the withdrawal method. 

For more information on contraception in general, check out the Go Ask Alice! Birth Control Basics fact sheet to learn more about the variety of birth control methods that are available. By speaking with a health care provider, you may also find a method that works well for both you and your partner. Having a satisfactory sex life is great and having safer sex is even better!

Stay protected,

Alice 

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