Birth Control 101 is a multi-part series covering everything you need to know about birth control. It has all the details you need to make the best decision for your body, like how each method works, the pros and cons, effectiveness, cost and where to get them. After we’re done, you’ll basically be an expert, and you’ll definitely be able to make an informed decision about how to stay safe when you’re having sex.
This segment covers everything you need to know about the Sponge, a Barrier Method beyond condoms.
Check out our Birth Control 101 section for details on every birth control method, and Birth Control Basics for a quick and dirty overview.
What is it?
The sponge is a barrier method of birth control. It is a soft, round piece of white plastic foam with a round dimple on one side and a nylon removal strap on the other. It is about 2 inches in diameter – filled with spermicide – and inserted into the vagina well before sex. Currently, the Today sponge is the only brand available in the US.
How does it work?
Like other barrier methods, the sponge prevents pregnancy by blocking your cervix (to keep sperm from entering your uterus) and releasing spermicide (to slow down and kill sperm). To be effective, it is recommended that you use extra spermicide. Although it blocks the cervix, it is not proven to prevent STDs and HIV, so a condom should be used for extra protection.
How to Put in a Sponge
The sponge can be inserted up to 24 hours before you have sex… so you can make sure you’re ready well before you go out for a night of fun. It can be inserted right before sex, too. But, it takes a bit of preparation and work to get it in, so you may want to put it in before you’re in the heat of the moment. It takes a bit of practice to put in just right. Also, remember not you use oil based lubricants, as they can degrade the material.
To put in your sponge:
- Before inserting the sponge, wet it with at least 2 tablespoons of clean water. The spermicide will become active when the sponge is completely wet, so gentle squeeze it a bit to make sure it’s saturated.
- Fold the sponge gently in half, with the dome sides facing each other, and slide the sponge back as far as it will go into your vagina, with the dome side facing up to cover your cervix.
- When you let go, the sponge will unfold to cover your cervix. Slide your finger around the edge to make sure it’s secure and covering you properly. Make sure you feel the loop at the bottom of the sponge.
How to Take Out a Sponge
You have to wait at least 6 hours after you’ve had sex to take the sponge out. This ensures that the spermicide will do its job to kill your partner’s sperm. If you’re planning on having sex again or later that day, you cannot leave the sponge in. A new sponge must be used. Also, don’t leave your sponge in for more than 30 hours. It could make you more susceptible to irritation, bacterial infection, and toxic shock syndrome.
To take out your sponge:
- Squat down into a comfortable position, as though you’re removing a tampon.
- Put a finger inside your vagina and feel for the loop. Hook your finger through the loop and pull the sponge out slowly and gently.
- The sponge can only be used once. Throw it away in the trash – not the toilet!
The sponge is not a very effective method of birth control, compared to others. When used perfectly, it is only 91% effective. When used typically, it is only 84% effective. For women who have given birth, these numbers are even lower – 80% effective for perfect use, and 78% effective for typical use.
- It is non-hormonal.
- It is small and easy to carry with you.
- You can put it in hours before sex.
- It will work for up to 30 hours.
- You may not feel it at all, and your partner may never know.
- You can conveniently buy it over the counter without a prescription.
- Depending on how often you have sex, it could be relatively inexpensive.
- It is not a very effective method of birth control (about 91% effective when used perfectly).
- It does not protect against HIV or STI’s.
- It may be painful, uncomfortable, or irritating – during insertion, wear, sex, removal, or even after.
- It may be difficult to insert or remove. It could even break into pieces, and have to be removed by a doctor.
- You’ll have a higher risk of urinary tract infections, inflammation of the cervix, toxic shock syndrome, bacterial vaginosis, and other infections.
- If you are sensitive to spermicide or plastics – it may cause a reaction.
- It can be pushed out of place or become dislodged during sex, which may leave gaps or cause it to fall out. This may be from your well-endowed partner, hard thrusting, or your positioning. It could interrupt sex, or leave you unprotected.
- It could make sex too messy (with too much liquid) or too dry (with not enough lubrication).
- It may be improperly placed, or without a perfect seal, to properly cover the cervix.
- You have to remember to use it every time, and put it in before sex. You have to plan ahead, so if it’s surprise sex, this method won’t work for you.
- Inserting the sponge can take a while, which might ruin the mood.
- You have to use a new one each time you have sex.
- You have to be very comfortable putting your fingers very far inside yourself, and not have sensitivities or difficulty way up there.
- After it’s in, it lasts 30 hours… but then your vagina needs some time to rest. If you’re doing it all the time, this method isn’t best for you.
- You can’t use it while you’re on your period.
- You do need a prescription, and need to visit a doctor to get fitted.
$9 – $15 for a package of three sponges.
Where to Get It
Purchase the sponge at your local pharmacy, drug store, or any other store that sells personal health products, including online stores.
Don’t stop there… learn more about the other methods so you can find the perfect fit! Check out these articles in our Birth Control 101 series.
Birth Control 101: The Basics of Birth Control
Birth Control 101: The Pill
Birth Control 101: The Patch
Birth Control 101: The Ring
Birth Control 101: The Shot
Birth Control 101: The Implant
Birth Control 101: Hormonal and Copper IUDs
Birth Control 101: Male Condoms
Birth Control 101: Cervical Cap
Birth Control 101: Diaphragm
Birth Control 101: The Sponge
Birth Control 101: Spermicide
Birth Control 101: Pull Out Method
Birth Control 101: Emergency Contraception (Plan B)
Common Birth Control Myths
“Birth Control Methods.” Bedsider Birth Control Support Network. Bedsider, n.d. Web. 27 July 2013.
“Birth Control Methods.” Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 2013. Web. 27 Jul. 2013.
“Types of Contraception.” Advocates for Youth, 17 Jan. 2012. Web. 27 July 2013.