Everything You Need to Know About the Birth Control Sponge
The birth control sponge is a legit form of nonhormonal birth control, and it may sound like a nickname for Spongebob.
Also known as a contraceptive sponge, the birth control sponge is a polyurethane disc soaked in spermicide that’s designed to be inserted deep into the vaginal canal ahead of P-in-V sex to prevent pregnancy.
The most popular over-the-counter contraceptive on the market was the sponge, which was first introduced in 1983. Since then, it has become less popular as more effective methods have been produced.
More and more people are asking healthcare professionals about the sponge, as the recent wave of social media gurus pushes nonhormonal birth control options.
- Accessibility. You can buy a birth control sponge without a prescription at most drugstores.
- Convenience. You can insert a birth control sponge up to a day before having P-in-V sex.
- Flexibility. You can use a birth control sponge as needed, rather than daily or monthly.
- Nonhormonal. Using a birth control sponge won’t affect your hormone levels.
- The sponge is not available in the US.
- Birth control sponges are less effective if you deliver a baby vaginally.
- They are not safe to use during menstruation.
- “condoms can protect against sexually transmitted infections, but birth control sponges can’t.”
- The risk of STDs is increased by the irritation of your vagina.
- It takes some skill to insert and remove.
If you’ve never given birth vaginally, the sponge is about 91% effective. If you’ve previously given birth vaginally, the sponge is 76% effective.
Why the difference? Well, the sponge is a one-size-fits-all product — it is not sized to fit the particular dimensions of your cervix.
“Delivering vaginally changes the shape and size of the cervix and cervical opening, which means the same sponge that properly covered your cervix before birth probably won’t after birth,” explains Felice Gersh, MD, author of “PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline To Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones and Happiness.”
The birth control sponge may also be slightly less effective for people who recently had a later-term abortion, though there is no data on this.
The sponge can be used to keep sperm from fertilization.
Gersh says that it acts as a physical barrier that prevents the sperm from reaching the cervix.
“If sperm can’t enter the cervix, they can’t reach the uterus or fallopian tubes, where fertilization occurs The sponge can absorb sperm.”
Gersh says that the sponge continuously releases spermicide, which kills the sperm before they even approach the cervix.
“The birth control sponge doesn’t prevent STDs.”
Internal and external condoms are the only birth control method that reduces the risk of both unwanted pregnancy and STIs.
So, if you don’t know your partner’s STI status or they are STI-positive, pair your sponge with a condom.
The sponge is less effective for people who have previously given birth, experienced pregnancy loss, or had a later-term abortion.
People who fall into any of the above categories might want to use a more effective method.
If you have had an allergic reaction to spermicide, you should avoid this product. If you have a polyurethane allergy, you should avoid the sponge.
Healthcare professionals also recommend that anyone with a history of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) — a bacterial infection most commonly caused by leaving a tampon in too long — avoid the product, too.
“You need to manually insert the sponge. If you don’t like putting your fingers inside yourself or have had a bad experience with menstrual cups or menstrual discs, this probably isn’t the best option for you.”
You are responsible for placing the device inside your body, unlike IUDs and implants, which are done by a clinician.
“It isn’t difficult once you get used to it.”
Here is how.
- You can wash your hands with soap and water.
- Wet the sponge with clean water. The sponge should be wet all the way through.
- The spermicide can be activated by squeezing the sponge. It should become sudsy when you squeeze it.
- The sponge should be folded away from the loop so that it is long and narrow.
- You can slide the sponge into your vaginal canal from a standing position.
- The sponge should be released. It will cover your cervix.
- You should slide your finger around the edge of the sponge to make sure your cervix is covered.
Gersh says it may take some practice to figure out if it is easier to insert the sponge from a standing, squatting, or seated position. Everyone has a preference.
You can have sex up to 24 hours before you have the birth control sponge.
You should not keep the sponge in for more than 30 hours after having sex, and you should wait at least 6 hours after having sex to remove it.
It is possible.
If you have a sensitivity to the material of the disc or the spermicide that is pre-treated with, you could experience vaginal burning.
Gersh says that if the sponge irritates the vaginal tissues, the risk of contracting an STD increases. She explains that these micro tears are an entryway for infectious pathogens.
“If you can’t get all the pieces out of the sponge when you try, it’s important to seek medical attention. It is possible that leaving the pieces in your body will cause an illness.”
The sponge is associated with an increased risk of TSS. If left unaddressed, TSS can cause your body to go into shock and result in organ damage.
You can reduce your risk of sponge-related TSS by using the following methods.
- “Carefully following the instructions for the package’s removal.”
- The sponge must be removed within 30 hours.
- If you are experiencing vaginal bleeding or menstruation, you can use a different birth control method.
If you develop a fever, dizziness, or other flu-like symptoms, it could be a sign of TSS. Seek immediate medical attention.
“Using the sponge is going to require some math on your part,” says Dr. Sophia Yen, CEO, and co-founder of Pandia Health.
You must wait at least 6 hours after sex to remove the sponge. You must remove the sponge 30 hours after the initial procedure.
How is a birth control sponge removed?
- You can wash your hands with soap and water.
- Feel around for a little loop with your finger inserted into your vagina.
- Pull straight until the entire sponge is out, when you hooked your fingers around the loop.
- “The sponge should be thrown away. Don’t flush your sponge down the toilet and don’t try to reuse it.”
If you are not able to pull it out the first time, try to remain calm.
Put your foot on the ledge of the toilet or tub when you are ready to try again. As if you were trying to poop, reach your finger in and exhale. The device is pushed further out by the muscles inside the vaginal canal contract.
“Birth control sponges can only be used once. A sponge can’t be used again after it’s been removed.”
You can pop a new sponge after removing an old one.
The birth control sponge is a nonprescription method, which means you can purchase it on your own.
Purchase a new birth control sponge if you want a new one. Buy them in bulk.
What are the side effects of the birth control sponge?
There are no side effects. The sponge itself can cause irritation from the spermicide that is soaked with.
Irritation can cause burning and itching. It makes you more vulnerable to STDs.
In rare cases, the risk of TSS is also a risk.
How many times can you use a birth control sponge?
You can have sex until the sponge is out.
The devices can only be used once, and only for a period of up to 30 hours.
Is the birth control sponge hard to insert?
This answer will vary user-to-user. But if you’ve ever used a menstrual disc or cup and had no problem with insertion, this shouldn’t be an issue either.
Is the birth control sponge uncomfortable?
“It shouldn’t be! The person wearing it can’t feel it if it’s inserted correctly.”
“It doesn’t feel different for a penetrating partner than the rest of the vaginal canal.”
Where do you get the birth control sponge?
Today Sponge is the only birth control sponge currently being manufactured.
It was available at drugstores, online sites and at the pharmacy.
The Today Sponge is out of stock everywhere, with no stated date of when it will be back in stock.
“We continue to be out-of-stock and out of production. We are unable to advise when or if this situation will change,” the website reads.
It is important to find the right balance between your personal preferences and what is appropriate for your body based on your medical history when choosing a method of birth control.
This guide can help you jump start your selection process. Talk to a clinician about your options to make sure you and your partner are made to feel good about it.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.