Vaginal Contraceptive Film (VCF)
What is VCF?
- Vaginal Contraceptive Film (VCF) is a small square of clear film that is placed in your vagina*. Once inside your vagina, VCF turns into a gel. The gel contains a spermicide called nonoxynol-9. Spermicide is a chemical that kills sperm when it comes in contact with it.
How does VCF prevent pregnancy?
- In order to get pregnant, sperm must enter your vagina, swim up into your uterus and fertilize an egg that has been released from your ovaries during ovulation. Once it has turned into a gel (about 15 minutes), the VCF covers your cervix (the entrance to your uterus), preventing sperm from getting inside and reaching an egg.
- The spermicide in the VCF kills sperm.
How effective is VCF?
- VCF is 94% effective. This means that if 100 people used VCF correctly for one year, only 6 people would get pregnant.
- Because VCF may be used incorrectly, it is closer to 72% effective with typical use.
- If you use VCF incorrectly, your risk of pregnancy increases.
How do you use VCF?
- Get into a comfortable position to insert the VCF. You may want to squat, put a foot up on a chair, or lie on your back.
- Next, fold one film over your finger and push it as deep into your vagina as you can.
- VCF is more effective if you use your finger to move the VCF over your cervix after you’ve inserted it. You may want to practice finding your cervix before using VCF; it is located at the top of the vagina and should feel a bit like the tip of your nose.
- Wait 15 minutes to allow the film to dissolve into a gel before having vaginal sex.
- VCF protects you from pregnancy for a single act of vaginal sex for up to three hours after inserting it. You will need to put in a new film for every additional act of sex.
- You can insert VCF before you plan to have sex, but remember that it will only be effective for up to three hours after insertion.
- If you have a physical disability, you may need a partner or support person to help you insert the VCF.
How to start using VCF
- You do not need a prescription for VCF.
- You can purchase VCF in a box at a pharmacy (approximately $13/box of 12) or in single packets at some sexual health clinics. Check the expiry date before purchasing and using VCF.
What are the side effects of VCF?
- VCF may irritate your vagina or your partner(s)’ penis*, causing a burning sensation.
- VCF may also lead to yeast infections.
- VCF may increase your risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs).
- In rare cases, VCF can cause an allergic reaction.
- The likelihood and degree of side effects from VCF may depend on how often you are using it.
Advantages of VCF
- It’s easy to use.
- You only have to use this method when you have sex.
- You and/or your partner(s) can easily carry it.
- It’s not as messy or expensive as other spermicidal methods like foam or jelly.
- You and your partner(s) shouldn’t be able to feel it.
- There are no hormonal side effects. People who can’t or do not want to take hormonal birth control can use this method.
- It doesn’t affect your ability to get pregnant in the future.
- You don’t need a prescription to buy it.
Disadvantages of VCF
- When used alone, VCF is not as effective as other methods of birth control, particularly hormonal methods.
- You have to put a new film in each time you have sex, and you have to wait 15 minutes for it to dissolve into a gel before it becomes effective.
- You have to be comfortable touching the inside of your vagina.
- You or your partner could experience side effects.
- You should not use it if you or your partner(s) are allergic to spermicides.
- VCF does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Frequent use of spermicides may irritate your vagina, which can make getting some STIs more likely.
For a downloadable resource on this topic, please visit Planned Parenthood Toronto Factsheet Database.
If you have questions about this topic, feel free to contact one of our peer educators. [Link]
*We know that these aren’t the words everyone uses for their bodies (eg. trans folks), and support you using the language that feels best for you.