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What is Nonoxynol-9?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Jay Garcia
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2016
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Nonoxynol-9, also known as N-9, is a chemical surfactant which has a number of uses. In the health and wellness sense, Nonoxynol-9 is used in some personal care products which are designed to prevent conception, such as spermicidal jellies and creams, and condoms. Although the use of Nonoxynol-9 was once widespread and recommended, some concerns have been raised about the safety and efficacy of the product, leading some people to seek out alternatives.

This product works as a spermicide by effectively paralyzing spermatozoa, making it impossible for them to reach an egg and fertilize it. For people with religious beliefs surrounding the use of contraception, the use of Nonoxynol-9 is a topic of debate. Some people believe that any form of birth control is a violation of their religious beliefs, while others feel that the use of spermicides which prevent fertilization is acceptable, since a fertilized egg is not involved at any point. Ultimately, decisions about contraception rest in the hands of individuals, who may want to consult their religious officials and doctors.

When researchers performed in vitro testing on Nonoxynol-9, they discovered that it seemed to be effective at killing some microbes. This led researchers to suggest that in addition to acting as a spermicide, Nonoxynol-9 might also be an effective microbicide, offering protection against sexually transmitted infections in addition to contraception.

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As a result of these findings, Nonoxynol-9 became the ingredient of choice in many spermicidal products. The chemical also acts as a lubricant, an added benefit in the eyes of some users. However, additional research revealed that Nonoxynol-9 actually makes people more prone to infection because it can irritate mucus membranes, making it easier for bacteria and viruses to enter the body. In 2007, the United States Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about Nonoxynol-9, informing consumers that although the product is an effective spermicide, it does not protect against sexually transmitted infections, and can in fact increase the risk of transmission.

Some doctors have recommended that people who want to use spermicide should seek out alternative products, like menfegol. These products provide the desired spermicidal action without irritating the mucus membranes so they will not increase the risk of sexually transmitted infection. Currently, there are two reliable ways to eliminate or reduce, respectively, the risk of sexually transmitted infections: abstinence and the use of condoms or dental dams.

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