If you would like a barrier method of contraception, like the diaphragm and cervical cap, then you may want to consider the contraceptive sponge. While there are various brands available, the most popular, the Today sponge, was recently re-introduced in the US and Canadian markets, and is set to show up on store shelves in the UK and EU very soon. While it’s effectiveness is not as high as the birth control pill, the sponge can be used to prevent pregnancy.
What is a Sponge?
Like the name suggests, a contraceptive sponge is a soft, small doughnut shaped foam device made from polyurethane that contains spermicide. It is placed internally into the vagina to act as a contraception method and has a loop at one end for easy removal. There is only one size available.
There are two ways by which pregnancy is prevented with the sponge. First, the sponge has a contour that, when placed properly, covers the cervix. This works to block sperm from entering the uterus. If sperm are able to get by, the sponge absorbs the sperm and kills off the rogue sperm with the spermicide contained within the device. As no sperm are present to fertilize the egg, the chances of conception are diminished.
Who Can Use the Sponge?
Women who have just given birth or faced an abortion may need to restrain from using sponges as contraceptives. Additionally, women allergic to spermicide may prefer to use other methods of birth control, such as diaphragms and cervical caps, as the spermicide may cause irritation inside your vagina.
In general, any women can use sponges at any time except when you are having your period. Sponges are also not very effective in preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), like HIV and chlamydia. Therefore, many health providers suggest the use of condoms along with the sponge for added protection.
Using the Sponge
As with some other contraceptive methods, the sponge needs to be inserted manually, which means that there is room for error. Improperly inserting your sponge can increase the likelihood of pregnancy. Take the time to practice inserting the sponge a few times so that you are comfortable with it and know the correct way to insert it for a perfect fit. To put the sponge in place:
- Wash your hands with a soap and water
- Take the sponge from the pack and wet it with 10-15 drops of water. This helps in activating the spermicide and ease insertion
- Squeeze it once top remove excess water
- Sit or squat in a comfortable position
- Hold the sponge in one hand and fold it half with the depression or the dimple side facing upwards
- Slide the sponge along the vaginal wall until it is against your cervix. The depression in the contraceptive should snugly fit over your cervix
The sponge can be inserted right before you have sex or a few hours ahead of time. It also offers continuous protection during the time you are wearing it regardless of how many times you have sex. However, the sponge will need to remain in placed for 6 hours after intercourse and should be removed anywhere from 12 to 30 hours after insertion. Just how long you can keep the sponge in place will depend on the brand you are using.
- Wash your hands with soap and water
- Find a comfortable position and with your index finger hold the removal loop
- Pull on the loop gently to remove the sponge. Be certain that it is pulled out in one piece (if it is torn, you will need to remove every piece manually).
- Sometimes the vaginal muscle may grip the sponge tightly. In this case, wait a few minutes then again try again.
- Once removed, throw the sponge away as it cannot be used again
- Contact your doctor if you are unsure of the complete removal
With typical use, it has been observed that a sponge is about 84% to 87% effective. If you are using it in conjunction with a condom, then the effectiveness rises to around 95% to 99%. However, women who have given birth vaginally typically have a higher failure rate associated with use of this contraception.
Sponge usage by many women has shown that there are not too many risks involved with this method of contraception. The few side effects that may arise are usually due to improper use. Some side effects associated with this birth control are:
- Allergic reaction due to the spermicide
- Possible tearing and infection
- Yeast infections
- Rarely, toxic shock syndrome, which is a bacterial infection with signs like vomiting, dizziness, fever, vaginal discharge, and spotting. If you get any of these signs, it is necessary to contact your doctor immediately.
The sponge should not be used while you are menstruating as this can contribute to your risk of toxic shock syndrome.
Sponges as contraception are easy and rather a relief for those women who find it hard to remember taking pills everyday. Among their advantages are:
- Easy to use
- Effective immediately
- You do not need a prior consultation or an examination by a doctor to use it
- The effect is completely reversible. As soon as you stop using the sponge, your fertility returns
- It does not interfere with intercourse or foreplay
- Can be carried anywhere
- Easy to dispose
As with every birth control method, there are some disadvantages to contraceptive sponges, such as:
- Does not protect against STDs
- Cannot be used during menstrual cycle
- Increased risk of getting STDs due to the nonoxynol-9 present
- Some women may find it difficult to insert or may be uncomfortable touching their genitals
Availability and cost
Contraceptive sponges spent some time off the market but have recently been re-introduced in Canada and the United States. The most popular brand of sponges, the Today Sponge, plans to be in stores in the UK and the EU very soon. If you can’t wait until then, you may want to check out online fertility shops where you can order them. You do not need a prescription to obtain this birth control.
In North America, the cost of each sponge is about $2 to $3 per sponge and come in packs of 3 to 12 sponges. UK prices will likely be similar.