What is a Contraceptive Sponge?

Lainie Petersen

The contraceptive sponge is a type of birth control that works by both killing sperm as well as blocking its passage into a woman's cervix. As its name suggests, the device is composed of an actual sponge that is saturated in a spermicide. With correct usage, it is 89 percent to 91 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, though it is not considered an effective way to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. It has also been noted that the effectiveness of the sponge may be compromised when used by women who have recently had a baby.

The sponge does not have hormonal side effects, unlike the pill.
The sponge does not have hormonal side effects, unlike the pill.

A contraceptive sponge is typically round with a band on one side to aid in its removal and a dimple on the other so as to better fit over a woman's cervix. Some contraceptive sponges are ready for use right out of the package. The woman folds the sponge and inserts it into her vagina. Some types of contraceptive sponges require a woman to activate the spermicide by dampening it with water, though others can be inserted right out of the package. To be effective, the sponge should be inserted no longer than 24 hours before intercourse and should not be removed for at least six hours after intercourse takes place.

A contraceptive sponge can be inserted long before the start of intercourse.
A contraceptive sponge can be inserted long before the start of intercourse.

Advantages of using a contraceptive sponge include more spontaneity in sexual activity, as the contraceptive sponge can be inserted well before intercourse takes place and can remain in place during multiple acts of intercourse. The sponge is also available over the counter and does not require a doctor's visit or prescription. It has no hormonal side effects and does not interfere with sensation for either partner during sexual activity. Contraceptive sponges are individually wrapped, very lightweight, and a woman can easily carry one or more in her purse.

The inclusion of a spermicide in the contraceptive sponge can present difficulties for some couples, as it can cause both irritation and allergic reactions in both men and women. In addition to sensitivities, spermicide generally has an unpleasant taste, which can preclude oral sex for women who have already inserted the sponge prior to lovemaking. The sponge can trigger infections and possibly toxic shock syndrome in women if it is left inside the vagina for a long time. Couples who have significant concerns about unplanned pregnancy or who wish for additional protection against a sexually transmitted disease may wish to consider the use of a condom along with the sponge.

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