protect against unwanted pregnancies. In fact, ancient Jewish literature
discusses the use of sponges soaked in vinegar to block and absorb sperm in the uterus, dating this form of birth control back thousands of years. With the introduction of more reliable condoms and hormonal birth control throughout the centuries, the sponge’s popularity declined. However, when the birth control sponge was branded and released into the American market it acquired a decent amount of popularity with about 12% of sexually active women using the sponge as a contraceptive.
Along with the diaphragm, the sponge became a symbol of female empowerment
because it allowed the woman to control her body in a way not quite met by
male-use birth control like condoms.
What is the Sponge?
The birth control sponge, marketed under the brand name Today Sponge, is a plastic disk filled with spermicide, called nonoxynol-9. It is roughly ¾ of an inch thick and 2 inches wide, and is placed in the vagina, covering the cervix, before intercourse. Before insertion, the sponge must be run under water until the spermicide begins to suds to activate the spermicide and saturate the sponge. Once inserted, the sponge can remain in the vagina for up to 30 hours, and is effective for 24 hours after insertion. The sponge works by blocking the cervix to prevent sperm from entering the uterus, and by
releasing spermicide to stop sperm from moving and keep them in the vaginal canal so that they cannot join with an egg in the uterus. To ensure that the sponge has immobilized all sperm, it must remain in place for 6 hours after intercourse.
How effective is the Sponge?
On average, about 12 out of 100 women who have never given birth and use the sponge as their only form of birth control will get pregnant each year. With perfect use, this number rises to about 9 out of 100 women who have never given birth getting pregnant each year. Previously having
given birth increases the chance that the sponge will fail, with an average of about 24 out of 100 women who have given birth getting pregnant each year. Women who have given birth and use the sponge perfectly are still at higher risk with about 20 out of 100 getting pregnant each year. Due to these relatively low numbers, it is often recommended that the sponge be used in conjunction with another form of birth control, like a condom.
What are myths associated with the Sponge?
1. The sponge protects against HIV and STDs.
Many women believe that because the sperm does not reach the uterus, they will be protected from STDs when using the sponge. This is not true. Sperm comes into contact with the vaginal walls, meaning that STDs can be transmitted between partners. If you are having intercourse with an unknown partner, it is best to use a male or a female condom to prevent STD transmission.
2. My partner will be able to feel the sponge during sex.
During sex, neither partner will feel a properly inserted sponge. It is inserted deep enough into the vagina that male partners will not be able to sense it, and is made of a flexible material that will not cause discomfort for you. If your partner can feel the sponge, this means that it has likely been dislodged or was not inserted properly. To prevent pregnancy, it is important to stop sex and insert a new sponge or use a back-up form of birth control, like a condom. Some women may also report a numbing sensation when using the sponge. This is due to the spermicide and is not dangerous, but if you feel that it is unpleasant or takes away from your sexual experience, it
may be best to explore other options for your birth control.
3. The sponge can be reused multiple times.
The sponge can be used continuously for up to 24 hours, including during multiple sex acts. It does not need to be replaced between sex acts occurring in this 24-hour window. However, the sponge cannot be taken out and reinserted, even within this time period, because this decreases its
effectiveness. If the sponge is dislodged or removed, a new sponge must be inserted for continued protection against pregnancy.
4. Sponge insertion will ruin the mood before sex.
Since the sponge is effective for up to 24 hours, it can be inserted several hours before intercourse. This means that women do not have to interrupt the moment to insert the sponge, making it a very convenient method.
5. The sponge is hard to get.
In the early 1990s, sponge production in the United States halted briefly, making the sponge temporarily more difficult to come by. Many women who relied on this form of birth control rushed to procure as many of them as possible. However, this shortage no longer exists and sponges are
What are the disadvantages of the Sponge?
The sponge will typically not harm women and has no serious disadvantages. However, there are some common side effects. Sensitivity to the high volume of spermicide can sometimes cause numbness, as I discussed above. Additionally, sponges can sometimes break apart during removal, which requires the woman to thoroughly check to make sure that all pieces of the sponge have been removed. If you cannot remove a piece of the sponge, it is important to see your doctor for removal. Women also complain about the sponge being messy because of the large amount of spermicide, which introduces
additional fluids into sex. However, women sensitive to spermicide may experience vaginal dryness, which can be fixed through using a water-based lubricant. Many women experience some difficulty inserting and removing the sponge during their first few uses, but this tends to get less pronounced over time.
Where can I get the Sponge?
The sponge can be found in nearly every drugstore and is often available in family planning sections of grocery stores as well. Additionally, most health clinics will carry the sponge. They typically cost between $9 and $15 for a pack of three sponges, making them quite affordable.