Contraceptive Sponge

Key Facts
  • The contraceptive sponge is more effective when used with a condom.
  • Contraceptive sponges do not protect you against STIs or HIV.
  • Sponges should be NOT be used during your period.
  • You don’t need a prescription to buy the contraceptive sponge.
  • The Today® sponge is the only contraceptive sponge available in the United States at this time.
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  • Young men's version of this guide

contraceptive sponge
Contraceptive sponge

The contraceptive sponge is a small, donut-shaped foam sponge that contains a spermicide called Nonoxynol-9. The contraceptive sponge is a vaginal barrier method that prevents pregnancy by keeping sperm from fertilizing an egg that your ovaries make each month. The sponge does not protect you from STIs. To lessen the risk of getting an STI, a condom should always be used. Women who are allergic to nonoxynol-9 should not use any vaginal barrier method that contains this spermicide.

Out of 100 *nulliparous women using contraceptive sponges
Typical use: 12 women become pregnant pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1
Perfect use: 9 women become pregnant pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1
Out of 100 *parous women using contraceptive sponges
Typical use: 24 women become pregnant pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1
Perfect use: 20 women become pregnant pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1pregnant_1

*Nulliparous is a medical term that means that a woman has never given birth to a baby.
*Parous is a medical term that means a woman has given birth to one or more babies.

How does the contraceptive sponge work?

After the contraceptive sponge is placed in the vagina, it prevents pregnancy by releasing a spermicide called Nonoxynol-9. This spermicide works by killing or paralyzing sperm (they can’t move) that comes into the vagina. A “dimple” on one side of the sponge fits over your cervix to form a wall to sperm, preventing sperm from reaching an egg. The dimple also lowers the chances that the sponge will move out of place during sexual intercourse. The other side of the sponge has a loop for easy removal. There is only one size sponge.

Will my partner or I be able to feel the sponge?

The sponge is soft and once inserted properly you or your partner should not be able to feel it. If it feels uncomfortable, it may not be inserted the right way. If this happens, slowly and gently re-position the sponge deep into your vagina until it covers your cervix, but be careful not to push your fingernail through it. You should be able to feel the loop.

How do I use the contraceptive sponge?

Wash your hands first. Remove the sponge from the package it comes in and wet it with two tablespoons of clean water. Squeeze the sponge once. This activates the spermicide. Next, insert the sponge into your vagina by sliding it along the back wall until it is up against your cervix. The dimple side of the sponge should face your cervix and the loop should face away from your cervix. Make sure that you feel the sponge covering your cervix. You can insert the sponge just before you have sex OR up to 24 hours ahead of time. One sponge provides some protection against pregnancy for a total of 24 hours, no matter how many times you have sexual intercourse.

Leave the sponge inside of your vagina for at least 6 hours after you have finished having intercourse, but no more than a total of 30 hours. Before you remove the sponge, wash your hands and take hold of the loop on the sponge with one finger. Pull on the loop gently to remove the sponge. Make sure that the sponge is in one piece after you have removed it. Then throw it away. If it’s torn, you should remove all the pieces from your vagina. If you have any concerns that the sponge isn’t in one piece, contact your health care provider.

What about douching with a sponge in place?

Douching is not recommended after intercourse, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women not douche at all. Douching does not prevent pregnancy. There are no benefits and it is not safe because it can cause an increased risk in pelvic inflammatory disease, bacterial vaginosis (an infection of the vagina), and ectopic pregnancy (implantation of the fertilized egg outside of the uterus). Your body makes everything it needs to keep your vagina clean; however, it is fine to clean your vulva or the area outside of your vagina with warm water and mild soap. If you decide to douche in spite of this warning, you should wait at least 6 hours after intercourse so that the spermicide doesn’t get washed away.

How effective is the contraceptive sponge against pregnancy?

The contraceptive sponge is 88% effective with typical use. This means that if 100 women use the contraceptive sponge, 12 women will become pregnant in a year with typical use. The contraceptive sponge is less effective against pregnancy for women that have already had a baby.

Does the contraceptive sponge protect against STIs?

No. The contraceptive sponge does not protect against STIs. In fact, spermicides are not recommended for women who have multiple daily acts of intercourse because the irritation may increase the risk of acquiring HIV.

Can I be allergic to the contraceptive sponge?

Allergy is uncommon but some women may be allergic to the spermicide that is in the sponge or the polyurethane foam or preservative. If you use the sponge and experience any burning, itching, redness, rash or irritation, stop using the sponge and contact your health care provider.

Should I use any other type of contraception with the contraceptive sponge?

It’s best to use a male condom when you’re using the contraceptive sponge. This will increase the effectiveness against pregnancy and lessen your chance of getting an STI.

Is there anything else I should know?

Women who use the contraceptive sponge or other barrier methods of birth control should be aware of the very low risk of getting toxic shock syndrome (TSS). The contraceptive sponge should NOT be used during menstruation (your period), if you have ever had toxic shock syndrome, or if your sex partner has HIV/AIDS. If you do not know if your partner is infected, use a condom.

You do not need a prescription from a health care provider to buy the contraceptive sponge. The price of the contraceptive sponge varies; however, they usually cost between $9-15 USD for three. The only contraceptive sponge available in the United States at this time is the Today® sponge. You can buy it online, in some pharmacies or grocery stores or at family planning clinics.