Birth Control Sponge: Effectiveness, Benefits & How to Use It

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A birth control sponge is a circular female contraceptive with an indentation in the middle and a loop at one end for insertion. It prevents pregnancy using the barrier method of sperm restriction and immobilization of the sperm (1).

The device’s soft texture and minimal design make it comfortable and portable. It is also efficient because inserting it once prevents sperms from entering the uterus for around 36 hours.

Read this post to learn about the effectiveness, benefits, and risks of a birth control sponge and if it is the right choice for you.

How Does the Birth Control Sponge Work?

The birth control sponge combines the effects of three products to avoid contraception — a spermicide, a barrier, and a sperm absorber (2) (3).

  1. Spermicide: A spermicide is a contraceptive chemical that immobilizes sperm and restricts their entry into the uterus. Most birth control sponges have inactivated spermicides contained in them. The spermicide gets activated on contact with water. Therefore, it is important to wet the birth control sponge before usage.
  1. Barrier: Birth control sponges are made from polyurethane foam. They have a circumference that guards the cervix. This blockage prevents the entry of sperm into the uterus.
  1. Sperm absorber: The foamy nature of a birth control sponge is highly absorbent towards sperms. Any remaining sperm after the spermicide attack would be absorbed into the sponge.

How Effective Is A Birth Control Sponge?

These sponges are more effective in women who have not delivered a baby vaginally than those who have. The reason being is that the cervix expands during normal delivery, which impacts the tight grasp of the birth control sponge. This reduced tightness may reduce the effectiveness too.

As per the US National Library of Medicine, here are the birth control sponge failure rates (4).

  • In women who’ve never given birth, 9 out of 100 women may get pregnant, even if they’ve used the vaginal contraceptive sponge correctly for over a year.
  • Nearly 20 to 25 women in 100 may get pregnant if the sponge has not been used as instructed.
  • The sponge prevents accidental pregnancy better when used in combination with other contraceptives such as condoms or oral contraceptive pills.
  • Contrary to not using any contraceptive, using a vaginal sponge is a better preventive measure to avoid an unplanned pregnancy.

How To Use The Birth Control Sponge?

Placing a birth control sponge is perhaps its most challenging part. It requires you to place the sponge rightly within a few trials, without damaging the contraceptive in any manner. These are the few basic steps to insert and remove a birth control sponge (5) (6).

1. Insertion

The birth control sponge can be placed 24 hours before sex. To insert a vaginal sponge:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Wet the sponge with clean water to activate the spermicide. Do not drench the sponge and wet it as per the instructions by the manufacturer. Usually, you may need to pour one to two tablespoons of water.
  3. Find a comfortable position; squatting is recommended.
  4. Fold the sponge and insert it into the vagina as deep you can. You must place the dented part inside. The loop must face your fingers for effortless removal.
  5. Release the sponge so that it covers the cervix.
  6. Ensure that the sponge properly seals the cervix by sliding your fingers over its circumference.

2. Removal

A vaginal sponge must be removed six hours after sex. Follow the below steps for successful removal of the sponge.

  1. Clean your hands with soap and water even before removal.
  2. Grab the provided loop and gently pull the sponge out.
  3. Check if the sponge has come out intact.
  4. Discard the sponge as instructed. Never reuse it.

Although the above steps are usually the same for any birth control sponge, it is advisable to read the instructions by the manufacturer.

What Are The Benefits Of A Birth Control Sponge?

Despite its demanding insertion process, birth control sponges offer the following benefits (1) (3).

  • Can be purchased over the counter without any prescription
  • Offer immediate protection for up to 36 hours
  • Has no feel to it
  • Disposable and convenient to carry (pocket-friendly)
  • Comes in normal size (one-fit for all)
  • A better alternative to oral control pills as it has no impact on body hormones
  • Doesn’t require any spermicide refill in between
  • Once mastered, its application is easy
  • Available in most drug stores
  • Can be used by nursing mothers

What Are The Drawbacks Of A Birth Control Sponge?

Birth control sponges do have their share of disadvantages. You may face any of the following problems (1) (3).

  • Removing the sponge could be tedious
  • Requires practice to insert and remove the sponge
  • Not ideal for usage during the first six months after a delivery
  • One must check if the sponge came out intact; in case parts of it are still inside, you should see a healthcare professional
  • Cannot be used during periods

What Are The Risks Of A Birth Control Sponge?

Using a birth control sponge could pose certain health risks if it has been used improperly. These may include (5) (7):

  • The sponges are made from polyurethane or sulfites, which could cause allergic reactions in some women
  • The spermicide nonoxynol-9 may irritate and increase the risk of HIV
  • May cause vaginal irritation in some women
  • Can cause toxic-shock syndrome if left inside for more than prescribed time or if any broken piece remains inside for a very long time

Besides the risks, a drawback of birth control sponge is that it provides no protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

How Much Does A Birth Control Sponge Cost?

There are several brands of contraceptive sponges available in the US. They usually come in a pack of three, costing about $15. You may choose any brand, provided it is FDA-approved. Birth control sponges are available in most pharmacies, supermarkets, drug stores, or even online. Few family planning clinics may offer birth control sponges on request.

When To Talk To Your Doctor?

A talk with a doctor before using the birth control sponge is advised if you have had toxic shock syndrome, vaginal infections, abortion, or miscarriage in the past. In addition, it is advisable to confirm with your healthcare provider if this would be the right birth control option for you if you have delivered a baby (4) (6) (7).

There may be several pregnancy protection products for women in the market, such as female condoms and intrauterine devices. Choosing a contraceptive based on its effectiveness, safety, and ease should be a priority. Birth control sponges rank well when it comes to comfort, effectiveness, longevity, and ease of use after practice. Nevertheless, in the end, the final deciding factor for a birth control choice is up to you and your partner.

Key Pointers

  • Birth control sponge combines spermicide, sperm absorber, and a barrier as contraception.
  • You need to wet the sponge to activate the spermicide, insert it with clean hands, and ensure the sponge seals the cervix properly.
  • You can use it without a prescription, but consult a doctor first if you have had a miscarriage, vaginal infection, or toxic shock syndrome in the past.


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Sanjana Bhattacharjee

Sanjana did her post graduation in Applied Microbiology from Vellore Institute of Technology, India. Her interest in science and health, combined with her passion to write made her convert from a scientist to a writer. She believes her role at MomJunction combines the best of both worlds as she writes health-based content based on scientific evidence. Sanjana is trained in classical... more