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A birth control sponge is a nonhormonal birth control method that a person inserts into their vagina. Its effectiveness depends on if it is used with other barrier methods and if the person has given birth.
The birth control sponge may not be suitable for people with vaginal infections, a history of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), or an allergy to spermicides and polyurethane. While this product can protect against pregnancy, it cannot prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Currently, there is only one brand of birth control sponge, the Today Sponge, which is available to buy in the United States.
This article explores what the birth control sponge is, where to buy it, and how it compares to other contraceptive methods.
The birth control sponge is a method of nonhormonal birth control. It is round, consists of polyurethane foam, and contains spermicide. A person inserts it into their vagina before sexual activity to prevent pregnancy. They can use the attached fabric loop to remove the sponge after sex.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that barrier birth control, such as condoms, spermicide, and sponges, is not as effective as hormonal contraception.
Additionally, the birth control sponge does not protect against the transmission of STIs. Therefore, a person needs to use a condom to protect against these infections.
Every year, up to 28 out of 100 people become pregnant while using barrier birth control. To increase the effectiveness of the sponge, people should ensure they follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Individuals can use the sponge alongside condoms to increase protection against unintended pregnancy and the transmission of STIs. If any method of barrier birth control becomes misplaced during sexual activity, people may wish to consider using emergency contraception.
Additionally, the advocacy group Planned Parenthood states that the birth control sponge is more effective for those who have never given birth. With typical use, the sponge will be 91% effective in people who have never given birth compared with an effectiveness of 80% in those who have.
The birth control sponge is suitable for most people who do not wish to use hormonal birth control.
However, unlike other barrier birth control methods, such as internal and external condoms, the birth control sponge does not protect against STIs. With this in mind, people may consider using a condom in addition to the sponge to prevent pregnancy and STIs.
Additionally, individuals may prefer to use a different form of contraception if they have:
- recently given birth
- recently had an abortion or pregnancy loss
- an allergy to spermicide, sulfites, or polyurethane
- an infection of or around the vagina
- difficulties or discomfort in putting fingers into the vagina
- a history of TSS
People should also discuss any relevant medical history with a healthcare professional before using a birth control sponge.
They should also not use the sponge when they are menstruating or experiencing vaginal bleeding, as this can increase the risk of TSS.
A person can keep the birth control sponge in their vagina for up to 30 hours. They can insert the sponge up to 24 hours before having sex and must leave the sponge in for 6 hours after sex.
To insert a sponge, a person must do the following:
- With clean hands, moisten the sponge with water and squeeze it gently to activate the spermicide.
- Making sure the sponge is wet and foamy, hold it with the fabric loop facing down.
- Squat or place one leg on a raised surface such as a stool or toilet.
- Fold the sponge in half and insert it as far into the vagina as possible.
- Check that the sponge covers the cervix by running a finger around the edges.
To remove the sponge, a person should squat or place one leg on a raised surface, hold onto the fabric loop, and gently pull it out.
If a person has difficulties reaching the sponge, they can bear down with their vaginal muscles while reaching for it.
The birth control sponge is not reusable. People must throw it away once they have finished using it.
The ACOG states that the contraceptive sponge’s spermicide may cause vaginal burning and irritation. This irritation can increase a person’s likelihood of contracting HIV and other STIs.
Some people may also have an allergic reaction to the polyurethane or sulfites present in the sponge.
Rarely, individuals who use a birth control sponge can develop TSS. A person is more likely to experience TSS if they:
- leave the sponge in for more than 30 hours
- use it while menstruating
- use it shortly after giving birth
- have an abortion
- experience pregnancy loss
The ACOG advises that individuals who have given birth less than 6 weeks ago should not use this birth control method.
A person should always contact a doctor or other healthcare professional to discuss when it is safe to use a birth control sponge after birth, abortion, or pregnancy loss.
Seeking emergency medical attention
People should seek emergency medical attention if they experience any of the following signs of TSS:
- high temperature
- flu-like symptoms
- nausea and vomiting
- widespread rash
- redness in lips, tongue, and whites of the eyes
- dizziness and fainting
- shortness of breath
People should immediately take out any birth control sponges or tampons if they experience any TSS symptoms.
The table below shows the differences between the birth control sponge, condoms, the birth control implant, and intrauterine devices (IUDs).
|Birth control sponge||External condom||Implant||IUD|
|Life span||one-time use only||one-time use only||lasts up to 5 years||lasts up to 12 years|
|Use||insert into the vagina up to 24 hours before sex||place over the penis before sex||a doctor inserts it into the arm||a doctor inserts it into the uterus|
|Average cost||starting at around $12 for 3 sponges||around $12 for a pack of 12||up to $1,300||up to $1,300|
|Side effects||vaginal irritation|
allergic reaction to spermicide, polyurethane, or sulfites
in rare cases, TSS
|allergic reaction to latex or polyurethane|
lighter or heavier periods
|Effectiveness||91% effective in people who have never given birth||more than 99% effective||more than 99% effective|
Currently, there is only one brand of birth control sponge available to buy in the U.S.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.
Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.
Today Sponge is a company that manufactures and sells the birth control sponge. However, the brand is currently unable to manufacture or sell the sponge due to COVID-19 restrictions in India.
Today Sponge states that the birth control sponge is out of stock until further notice. A pack of three sponges costs $11.99 through the brand’s website.
However, Walmart sells the Today Sponge on its website. A pack of three birth control sponges costs $21.78.
Before using a birth control sponge, people may wish to consider its advantages and disadvantages.
- easy to use
- does not release any hormones
- available to buy without a prescription
- safe to use with condoms
- allows people to immediately begin trying to conceive once they stop using it
- does not protect against STIs
- less effective for people who have given birth
- unsuitable for use during menstruation or after giving birth
- can cause TSS, although this is rare
Below are some frequently asked questions about the birth control sponge.
Does the birth control sponge protect against STIs?
The birth control sponge does not prevent the transmission of STIs.
However, a person can use external condoms alongside a birth control sponge. A condom is the most effective protection against STIs.
How long can I leave the sponge in?
People can insert the sponge into their vagina up to 24 hours before sex, and they must leave it in for 6 hours after sex.
A person should not keep the sponge in their vagina for more than 30 hours.
Is the contraceptive sponge safe?
The contraceptive sponge is safe for most individuals to use. However, people who are menstruating, have recently given birth, or have recently had an abortion or pregnancy loss should not use it.
Additionally, some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to the polyurethane, spermicide, or sulfites in the sponge.
In rare cases, the sponge may cause TSS. A person can decrease their risk of TSS by not using the birth control sponge while menstruating.
The birth control sponge is a nonhormonal birth control method that people can insert up to 24 hours before sex. However, this method does not protect against STIs.
The birth control sponge is safe to use. However, individuals should take it out immediately if they experience vaginal irritation, an allergic reaction, or any symptoms of TSS.