The contraceptive sponge is a type of birth control (contraceptive) that prevents sperm from entering the uterus. It is soft and disk-shaped, and made of polyurethane foam. The contraceptive sponge contains spermicide, which blocks or kills sperm.
Before having sex, you insert the sponge deep inside the vagina so that it covers the cervix. Your vaginal muscles hold it in place. The contraceptive sponge has a strap on one side for easier removal.
Only one contraceptive sponge — Today Sponge — has Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the U.S.
The contraceptive sponge can prevent pregnancy but doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Why it's done
The contraceptive sponge is available over-the-counter and:
- Doesn't require a prescription or fitting
- Can be inserted immediately or up to 24 hours before sex
- Provides protection from pregnancy for 24 hours
- Can be used as a backup method of birth control
- Doesn't require a partner's cooperation
The contraceptive sponge isn't right for everyone. There are several contraceptive options and you should discuss with your doctor whether any may be better suited for you.
Your health care provider may not recommend a contraceptive sponge if you:
- Are sensitive or allergic to spermicide or polyurethane
- Have a vaginal abnormality that affects the way the contraceptive sponge fits
- Have frequent urinary tract infections
- Have a history of toxic shock syndrome
- Recently gave birth, had a miscarriage or had an abortion
- Are at high risk of contracting HIV or you have HIV or AIDS
- Are at high risk of pregnancy — you're younger than age 30, have sex three or more times a week, you've had previous contraceptive failure with vaginal barrier methods, or you're not likely to use the contraceptive sponge consistently
An estimated 12 out of 100 women who've never given birth will get pregnant during the first year of typical use of the contraceptive sponge. An estimated 24 out of 100 women who've given birth will get pregnant during the first year of typical use of the contraceptive sponge.
The contraceptive sponge doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The contraceptive sponge and the spermicide it releases may cause:
- Vaginal irritation or dryness
- Urinary tract or vaginal infection
- An increased risk of contracting STIs
- Toxic shock syndrome
How you prepare
Before using the contraceptive sponge, read the product instructions carefully or talk to your health care provider. It's important that you use a backup method of contraception, such as a male condom or oral contraceptives, when you begin using the contraceptive sponge. This improves the effectiveness of the contraception.
What you can expect
To use the contraceptive sponge:
- Remove the sponge from its package. Moisten it with about 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) of clean water and squeeze it gently until the sponge is sudsy. Water activates the spermicide inside the contraceptive sponge.
- Insert the contraceptive sponge. Find a comfortable position, such as squatting with legs slightly spread apart. Separate your labia with one hand. With your other hand, hold the contraceptive sponge with the strap facing down and the dimple facing up. Fold the sides of the contraceptive sponge upward. Point the folded contraceptive sponge toward your vagina and use one or two fingers to slide the sponge into your vagina as far up as it will go. Be careful not to push your fingernail through the contraceptive sponge while inserting it.
- Check the placement of the contraceptive sponge. Slide your finger around the edge of the contraceptive sponge to make sure your cervix is covered.
- Leave the contraceptive sponge in place for at least six hours after sex. However, do not leave it in longer than 24 hours to reduce the risk of an infection.
- Remove the contraceptive sponge. Gently pull on the strap. If you can't find the strap, bear down or grasp the contraceptive sponge between your thumb and forefinger and pull. If your vaginal muscles are still holding the contraceptive sponge tightly, wait a few minutes and try again. Slip a finger between the contraceptive sponge and your cervix on one side to break any suction. Be careful not to push your fingernail through the sponge while removing it. Check the sponge for any tearing. If torn, run a finger around the upper part of your vagina to sweep out any remaining pieces of the sponge.
- Discard the used sponge. Place the used sponge in the trash. Don't flush it down the toilet. Never reuse a contraceptive sponge.
Don't use the contraceptive sponge during your period. Douching isn't recommended. If you douche, wait until at least six hours after sex to avoid washing away spermicide. Don't douche while the contraceptive sponge is in your vagina.
Contact your health care provider if:
- You have signs and symptoms of toxic shock syndrome, such as sudden high fever, diarrhea, dizziness, vomiting, fainting or a rash that looks like sunburn
- You have trouble removing the contraceptive sponge or you're able to remove only part of the sponge