The contraceptive sponge, also known as the birth control sponge, is a soft saucer-shaped device made from polyurethane foam. The sponge is filled with a spermicide known as nonoxynol-9. It is considered a barrier method of birth control.
How does a birth control sponge work?
You insert the sponge deep into your vagina before sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy. It is designed to fit over the cervix and works in three ways to prevent pregnancy:
- It blocks the cervix, preventing semen from entering the uterus.
- The sponge contains spermicide which kills sperm.
- The sponge absorbs the semen and traps sperm.
How effective is a contraceptive sponge?
The effectiveness of the sponge depends on how well you use it and whether or not you’ve ever given birth. The failure rates are:
- 9 percent for women who haven’t given birth and use the sponge correctly every time
- 12 percent for women who haven’t given birth and don’t use the sponge correctly every time
- 20 percent for women who have given birth and use the sponge correctly every time
- 24 percent for women who have given birth and don’t use the sponge correctly every time
To improve the effectiveness of the sponge, ask your partner to pull out before ejaculating. He can also use a condom as added protection.
What are the side effects or health risks of a contraceptive sponge?
The sponge has been associated with some women experiencing toxic shock syndrome (TSS) – a rare but serious life-threatening bacterial infection.
The sponge should not be left inside the vagina for more than 30 hours. The sponge should not be used during menstruation or if you have a history of TSS.
If the sponge breaks when you’re trying to remove it and you can’t get all the pieces out, you need to see your doctor. Leaving the pieces in your body may cause an infection.
You should not use the sponge if you are allergic to sulfites (a chemical found in some food and wine), the spermicide, or any of the sponge’s materials. Doing so may lead to an allergic reaction.
What are the pros & cons of the birth control sponge?
The Pros include:
- Easy to use and effective immediately
- Inexpensive and available at drugstores
- Can be inserted up to a day before having sex
- Does not require a medical exam or prescription
- Doesn’t affect your hormone levels
- It’s reversible
The Cons include:
- It’s less effective if you’ve given birth
- It’s unsafe to use during your period
- It doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- The sponge or spermicide may irritate your vagina, which can increase your risk of STIs
- Insertion and removal can be messy or difficult
NOTE: The contraceptive sponge was removed from the market in 1994 by the FDA for health reasons but has been recently re-approved by the FDA, so it may not be available in all areas. Be sure to check with your pharmacy or health care provider on the availability of the contraceptive sponge.
Want to Know More?
Healthline: About the Birth Control Sponge