And the Likelihood of Conception
Medically reviewed by Renita White, MD
A birth control sponge is a nonhormonal contraception containing spermicide. The sponge-like product is inserted into the vagina to cover the cervix. It's more effective at protecting against pregnancy in some people than others.
Birth control sponges are typically available at most drugstores without a prescription, but the only brand sold in the United States (Today Sponge) has been out of stock for some time.
This article discusses the birth control sponge's effectiveness, potential side effects, and instructions for use.
Today Birth Control Sponge: How Effective Is It?
The birth control sponge is a type of barrier method contraceptive, which includes other forms of birth control like condoms and cervical cups. Barrier method contraceptives are less effective at preventing pregnancy than hormonal contraception, such as birth control pills or the Depo-Provera shot.
Using the sponge will still make it much less likely that you'll become pregnant than if you didn't use any contraceptive at all.
Here's how the birth control sponge stacks up with efficacy:
Roughly nine to 12 pregnancies happen in every 100 people who use the sponge correctly over a year
About 20 to 25 pregnancies occur in every 100 people who do not use the sponge correctly over a year
To increase the effectiveness of the sponge, experts encourage following the manufacturer's instructions closely. Because the sponge doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), condoms are highly recommended as added protection. A male condom and a sponge will help protect against pregnancy even more.
After Previous Pregnancy
The birth control sponge is not as effective in people who have been pregnant before. Pregnancy alters the shape and size of the cervix, which affects how well the sponge can cover that area. The sponge is one-size-fits-all, not a custom fit.
Data show that for people who have experienced a previous pregnancy, the sponge is roughly 80% effective in protecting against pregnancy if used correctly every time.
If you want to use the birth control sponge after pregnancy, experts recommend waiting about six weeks after giving birth. At this time, the uterus and cervix will have typically returned to their normal sizes.
The Sponge Compared to Other Types of Birth Control
There are many types of effective birth control options. It's a personal decision that requires weighing the pros and cons and choosing an option that works best for you.
The benefits of the birth control sponge include:
Available in drugstores without a prescription (when the product is in stock)
Nonhormonal, so it does not impact hormone levels
Can be used as needed rather than daily or routinely like other forms of birth control
Keep these facts in mind regarding the birth control sponge:
It is out of stock in the United States.
It does not protect against STIs.
It can be tricky to insert and remove.
It is less effective in people who have had a previous pregnancy.
Must remain inserted for a set time after sexual intercourse.
Can irritate the vagina due to the spermicide used.
It may come with an increased risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), though this is rare.
The birth control sponge isn't the right option for everyone. It's not recommended if you:
Have vaginal bleeding or are on your menstrual period
Are allergic to spermicides
Have an infection in the vagina, cervix, or uterus
Recently had a baby, abortion, or miscarriage
Have a history of TSS
Birth Control Sponge Timing: Before and After Sex
There are some important timing considerations when it comes to using the sponge. You can insert the birth control sponge immediately before sex or 24 hours before intercourse. You do have to wait at least six hours after having sex to remove it, though. And never leave the sponge in for more than 30 hours.
How to Put the Birth Control Sponge In
The birth control sponge is meant to be placed deep inside the vagina, just below the cervix, and is held in place by the vaginal muscles.
Inserting the sponge requires a couple of steps. To start, find a comfortable position, which may be standing in a semi-squatting stance. Or place one foot on a chair, sit cross-legged, or lie down.
From there, insertion steps include:
Wet the sponge with clean water and gently squeeze it to activate the spermicide. Continue squeezing until the sponge is sudsy, like soap.
Fold the sponge with the dimpled side on the inside.
Keeping the sponge folded, with the string loop on the bottom, insert the sponge as deep into the vagina as possible.
Release the sponge so that it unfolds to cover the cervix.
You can check to ensure the sponge has been inserted correctly by sliding your finger around the edges. Your cervix will not be exposed, and you should be able to feel the sponge's loop.
How to Pull Birth Control Sponge Out
To remove the sponge, wash your hands first. Reach into the vagina, grab onto the loop, and slowly pull. You can grab onto the sponge's edge if you can't find the loop. It may make it easier to bear down with your vaginal muscles, like you're going to the bathroom, when reaching for the loop.
Some removal tips to remember:
Wait six hours after your last sexual intercourse before removing the sponge.
Don't leave the sponge inserted for more than 30 hours.
Throw the used sponge away in the trash; do not flush it down the toilet.
Never reuse the sponge.
Where to Find the Birth Control Sponge
The birth control sponge, branded as the Today Sponge, hit shelves in 1983. It was voluntarily removed in 1995 after the manufacturer chose to stop production rather than make federally regulated changes to their manufacturing equipment. It became available again in 1998 after a new manufacturer bought the production patents.
The Today Sponge is the only brand of birth control sponge made available in the United States, but it's out of stock. It was once available at drugstores and online retail sites. Now, however, the manufacturer's website doesn't provide an expected return date for the product.
Birth Control Sponge Alternatives
The birth control sponge acts as a barrier to keep sperm from reaching the egg. There are a couple of other barrier methods available as an alternative to the sponge, including:
Spermicides: Sold over-the-counter as gel, cream, foam, or suppository products inserted into the vagina to prevent pregnancy
External condoms: Typically made of latex and fit over a penis before intercourse and protect against pregnancy and STIs; can be purchased in drugstores
Diaphragms: Silicone cups inserted into the vagina to block sperm from entering the cervix; require a healthcare provider's prescription
Cervical caps: Silicone cups inserted into the vagina before sex to protect against pregnancy (requires a prescription)
The birth control sponge is a soft, round sponge that contains spermicide and protects against pregnancy. It's placed over the cervix to block sperm from entering. The sponge is a nonhormonal form of birth control that's more effective in people who haven't been previously pregnant. It doesn't protect against STIs.
Typically, the sponge can be purchased at drugstores without a prescription, but the only brand available in the United States (Today Sponge) has been out of stock until further notice.
Read the original article on Verywell Health.