Print this page    •   Back to Web version of article

Nonoxynol-9 May Increase HIV Transmission Risk

By John Kirby

August/September 2001

Nonoxynol-9 (N-9), a spermicide found in many sexual lubricants and on many lubricated condoms, may not be the HIV-prevention panacea many had hoped.

Regular use of products containing N-9 may increase the risk of HIV transmission. Since the mid-1980s, many lube and condom manufacturers were promoting N-9 as a possible microbicide against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, when it was found to have some "limited effect" in killing HIV and other viruses and bacteria in test tubes and lab animals.

N-9 was developed as a spermicide and does a decent job at killing sperm, which means basically lowering the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. It was not developed with the intent to kill HIV or any other virus or bacteria and has never been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for this purpose.

Although N-9 did have a limited ability to kill HIV in the laboratory, in human studies N-9 was found to strip away the outer layer of skin inside the vagina and the rectum. HIV that wasn't killed entered the bloodstream more easily, thereby increasing the risk of HIV transmission by as much as 50 percent when compared to using a water-based lubricant without N-9. Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised against the use of N-9 as a microbicide. Of course, a condom lubricated with N-9 is better protection than no condom at all.

Several microbicides being tested are hoped to decrease the risk of HIV and STD transmission, but none of these are yet approved or available for use. Microbicides that do become available will still be recommended for use in conjunction with a latex or polyurethane condom.

John Kirby   John Kirby is a health promotion specialist in AIDS Project Los Angeles' POWER program. He can be reached by calling (213) 201-1558 or by e-mail at

Back to the August/September 2001 issue of Positive Living.

This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).

This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

General Disclaimer: is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, consult your health care provider.