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Contraceptive sponge

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Aug 11, 2021.

Overview

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 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.

The sponge can prevent pregnancy but doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Contraceptive sponge

A contraceptive sponge is a soft, disk-shaped device made of polyurethane foam that contains spermicide. The sponge is inserted into the vagina before sex to prevent pregnancy.

Why it's done

The contraceptive sponge is readily available in drugstores, pharmacies and some supermarkets. The sponge:

  • 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
  • Offers a hormone-free birth control option
  • Can be used as a backup method of birth control
  • Doesn't require you to rely on your partner for birth control

The contraceptive sponge isn't right for everyone. When it comes to birth control, you have several options. Talk with your doctor or other health care provider about which forms of birth control 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 condition of the vagina or uterus that affects the way the 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, you 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 sponge consistently

Risks

An estimated 12 out of 100 women who have 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 have given birth will get pregnant during the first year of typical use of the sponge.

The sponge doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The sponge and the spermicide it releases may cause:

  • Vaginal irritation or dryness
  • Urinary tract or vaginal infection
  • An increased risk of contracting STIs, including HIV
  • Toxic shock syndrome

How you prepare

Before using the contraceptive sponge, read the product instructions carefully or talk to your health care provider. Plan to use a backup method of birth control, such as a male condom or oral contraceptives, when you begin using the 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 sponge.
  • Insert the 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 sponge with the strap facing down and the dimple facing up. Fold the sides of the sponge upward. Point the folded 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 sponge while inserting it.
  • Check the placement of the sponge. Slide your finger around the edge of the sponge to make sure your cervix is covered.
  • Leave the sponge in place for at least 6 hours after sex. However, do not leave it in longer than 24 hours to reduce the risk of an infection.
  • Remove the sponge. Gently pull on the strap. If you can't find the strap, bear down or grasp the sponge between your thumb and forefinger and pull. If your vaginal muscles are still holding the sponge tightly, wait a few minutes and try again. Slip a finger between the 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 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 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 sponge or you're able to remove only part of the sponge
Contraceptive sponge placement

Before sex, you put some water on the contraceptive sponge, gently squeeze it to activate its spermicide, and then insert it into the vagina. The sponge covers the cervix, held in place by vaginal muscles.

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