Vaginal Sponge: Usage, Advantages, Disadvantages & Effectiveness

Birth Control Sponge – Use, Effectiveness, Benefits and More

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Priyanka Kalra (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

Sometimes the common methods of birth control may not work for some women because of certain unpredicted side-effects. In such a case, one can opt for the Vaginal sponge or the Contraceptive sponge. The vaginal sponge is a means of birth control which is reversible. Some women may prefer using a vaginal sponge to avoid pregnancy as it is easily available at most pharmacies without a prescription and is fairly easy to use as well. However, a vaginal sponge when compared to a male condom may not be able to provide any protection against Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) like HIV.

What Is a Contraceptive Sponge?

Contraceptive sponge or the birth control sponge is a doughnut-shaped sponge, about two inches in size. This soft, round vaginal sponge is made from polyurethane foam. The female sponge helps in preventing pregnancy through the blockade and spermicidal methods.

The contraceptive sponge may be inserted deep into the vagina before sex. The sponge forms a protective cover over the cervix and stops the sperm from passing into the uterus. Every cervical sponge has an attached cloth loop which makes it convenient to pull it out. The sponge is not reusable and should be discarded after use.

How Does It Work

The working of the sponge may be similar to that of a diaphragm. The sponge birth control method works in two ways. The sponge has an indentation which allows it to fit tightly against the cervix, creating a protective barrier and obstructing the entry of the sperms into the uterus. The sponge absorbs the semen before it can enter the cervix, the connecting passage between the vagina and uterus.

The vaginal sponge also has spermicide, a sperm-killing substance which prevents sperm from gaining access to an egg. It is essential for women to follow the correct method of insertion and using the sponge before sex. The sponge has to moisten with water before being inserted deeply into the vagina. You can keep the sponge inserted into the vagina for about 24 hrs before intercourse.

After use, you can pull it out with the help of the loop fastened to the sponge. The sponge can be used either in addition to a condom or all by itself. However, using it along with a condom may offer better protection against pregnancy.

Contraceptive Sponge’s Effectiveness

Here is how using a sponge helps avert pregnancy

1.The Effectiveness of Sponge for Preventing Pregnancy

When we talk about birth control, the contraceptive sponge may not be the best method available in the market especially if a woman has given birth once. However, it is vital to use the sponge properly before sex for it to be most effective. Following the product instructions correctly and using it each time before sex may increase its efficiency. But realistically speaking, it may not be entirely possible to use it correctly every time.

If a woman who has not borne a child and accurately uses the sponge, the efficiency rate can be as high as 91%. But realistically it may not be more than 88% effective. But in the case of a woman who has given birth before, the success rate may be less than 80% even if we talk realistically. Therefore, rendering it an unlikely choice of contraception for women with kids.

So, it can safely be assumed that 9 to 11 women out of 100 on an average who use the contraceptive sponge may still get pregnant in a year.

2. Ways to Increase the Effectiveness of a Sponge

One of the ways to increase the effectiveness of sponge can be to use it properly each time before you have sex. Using the sponge consistently every single time before sex may also enhance its efficiency. But a definite way to boost its effectiveness is by using it in combination with another method of contraception like oral contraceptives or the male condom.

Another way can be if your partner does not ejaculate semen inside and pulls out before secreting the semen inside the vagina. Nevertheless, using both the sponge and the male condom together may be the most effective way.

3. Do the Sponges Protect Against STDs?

The sponge cannot offer any protection against STDs. On the contrary, the use of sponge may put you at a greater risk of STDs like HIV. The spermicide sponge effectiveness is considerably reduced because the spermicide which coats the sponge has Nonoxynol-9, a chemical compound that can irritate the vaginal walls and make it more vulnerable to STD germs for them to easily enter the body through the vagina. Therefore it is better to get yourself tested on a regular basis to prevent STDs.

How to Use the Sponge

The correct usage of sponge for effective birth control cannot be stressed enough. The sponge can be fairly easy to use once you get enough practice with it. Inserting a sponge is quite like pushing in a tampon.

1. Contraceptive Sponge Insertion

The following things may be kept in mind while using the sponge:

  • It is important to wash the hands properly with water and soap before putting in the sponge.
  • After removing the wrapper of the sponge, moisten it with a little water.
  • Squeeze the sponge lightly a few times or until it is foamy. The sponge should be entirely wet for the spermicides to get activated.
  • Take care not to squeeze the sponge dry.
  • Keeping the indented side of the sponge facing upwards, turn the sides up (like you fold something in half) so that the sponge is long and narrow. The indented side of the sponge should be facing the body’s front side whereas the loop of the sponge should be facing the body’s backside.
  • Try sitting in a comfortable position like you can balance yourself on a chair’s edge or squat. You can also insert the sponge while lying down or standing with one of your foot placed on a chair.
  • Push the sponge deep into the vagina with the help of your fingers. Try and slide it as far up as possible. Upon letting go, the sponge will on its own unfold and tightly fit covering the cervix.
  • Make sure that the sponge is covering the cervix properly by moving your fingers all over and along the edges of the sponge. Also, ensure that the loop is at the sponge’s bottom.

You need not stress over remembering every single detail. All products come with a detailed set of instructions. Following the given directions will help you use the sponge correctly.

2. When Can One Insert the Sponge?

You can put in the sponge for about 24 hours before intercourse. The sponge is ready to use as soon as the spermicide is activated with water and inserted into the vagina. Therefore, birth control can be in place much before you have sex. After the sponge is inside the vagina you can indulge in intercourse any number of times as you may want without any interruptions for the next 24 hours. You need not replace the sponge for that period.

3. How Long Can You Leave a Sponge Inside?

You need to leave the sponge in for a minimum of six hours after intercourse. But be careful not to leave it inside for beyond 30 hours in total. There is no compulsion, however, to leave the sponge inside for total 30 hours, but six hours after sex must be abided by to be on the safer side.

4. Removal of Sponge

After washing your hands carefully, glide a finger into your vagina and fasten it around the loop of the sponge. Then very gently and steadily with the help of the loop pull the sponge out of the vagina. In case you are not able to find the loop of the sponge, you can grasp the sponge itself and slowly slide it out. If you experience difficulty reaching the sponge, push or thrust down with the help of your vaginal muscles while trying to reach for it. Carefully dispose of the used sponge by throwing it in the trash bin and not by flushing it down a toilet.

How Safe Is the Contraceptive Sponge?

  • The use of the birth control sponge is normally considered safe, but some women can experience certain side-effects.
  • Some women may not be comfortable with the idea of putting fingers in their vagina.
  • In some cases, women may find it difficult to insert the sponge inside the vagina properly.
  • Avoid using the sponge during menstruation.
  • In case of any doubt regarding its safe usage, it is always advisable to consult your doctor first before using the contraceptive sponge.

What Are the Risks of the Sponge?

If you have the following medical conditions, then the use of the sponge may be avoided:

  • If you are sensitive or allergic to polyurethane, spermicide, sulfites.
  • If you have a medical history of TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome)
  • In case of a recent miscarriage, abortion or birth of a child.
  • If you are suffering from a vaginal infection.
  • If there is any sort of vaginal bleeding.

In case you experience any of the below-listed symptoms while using the sponge, discontinue its use and contact a doctor immediately. The signs can be:

  • An unexpected high fever
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • A red and itchy rash which feels and looks like a sunburn
  • Pain or irritation in the throat
  • Sore joints and muscles
  • Dizziness and weakness

Advantages of the Birth Control Sponge

Many women may like to opt for the birth control sponge because of the following advantages:

  • Birth control sponge is inexpensive and convenient to carry along because of its small size. It can simply fit into any purse or pocket.
  • When correctly inserted, you or your partner may hardly feel it.
  • It may not have any effect on the woman’s natural hormones.
  • You can use it during breastfeeding.
  • It can easily be purchased without a prescription from most drugstores.
  • You can buy it online as well with no difficulty.
  • The use of the birth control sponge may not require a doctor’s intervention as no invasive surgery or fitting is needed. The user can insert it on her own.
  • It can offer you pregnancy protection for up to 24 hours.
  • Birth control sponge provides you with the control because you can place it inside your vagina hours before sex and may leave it until 30 hours after.
  • The sponge is easy to use and may not cause any inconvenience to either you or your partner.
  • It is just as easy to discontinue its use. If you wish to get pregnant, then you may not insert the sponge in before intercourse.
  • After placing the sponge inside your vagina, you can have sex many times for the ensuing 24 hours without replacing the sponge or any other disruptions.


Like all other methods of birth control, the sponge may also have some disadvantages. Though commonly considered safe to use by most women, a few women have reported contraceptive sponge side effects as well. Some of the disadvantages may be:

  • Some women may experience inconvenience or difficulty while inserting the sponge into the vagina. It may take considerable practice to learn the skill of correctly using the sponge.
  • It may happen at times that the loop of the sponge can break midway during the process of pulling it out of the vagina. In such a case, medical intervention becomes necessary to remove the remnants.
  • The spermicide in the sponge can result in vaginal irritation in some cases.
  • Sometimes if you are using the sponge, the sex can turn messy or wet because the sponge has to be foamy before you can insert it into your vagina.
  • The effectiveness of the sponge largely depends on its correct and proper usage every time you have intercourse. In reality, to use the sponge correctly every single time may not be easy. Therefore, one cannot be sure of the effectiveness of the sponge as an efficient method of birth control.
  • Occasionally the repeated and constant use of the sponge may cause some women to experience certain dryness in the vagina while having sex as the sponge may absorb the vaginal lubricants.
  • The sponge cannot be used again after having used it once.
  • You need to use the sponge each time you plan to have not done so may adversely affect its effectiveness.
  • The sponge can be removed only after six hours after you have had sex. It cannot be inside your vagina for longer than a total of 30 hours.
  • The sponge does not offer you any protection against sexually transmitted diseases.
  • The consistent use of the sponge can expose you to a heightened risk for HIV and other such infections as the spermicide in the sponge may irritate the walls of the vagina making it more susceptible to STD germs to invade the body.
  • Some women may be allergic to Nonoxynol-9, the chemical in the spermicide of the sponge which can result in discomfort and irritation.
  • Women who use the sponge as a method of birth control are somewhat at risk of getting a rare but dangerous disease called TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome).
  • The sponge’s spermicide may feel unpleasant if you happen to taste it.

Where Can You Buy It?

The spermicide sponge can be purchased over-the-counter without any prescription from most pharmacies or chemists. The birth control sponge is also available online.

The cost of the contraceptive sponge can differ depending on your place of residence and from where you are purchasing it. But free sponges or low-priced sponges may be available at community health centres or clinics.

It is imperative to use contraceptive sponges correctly and consistently. It is the only way to ascertain its effectiveness as a reliable birth control method. Adhering to the product instructions will help in using the sponge correctly. With practice, one can attain the ease to use it properly. If unsure about using the sponge consistently, you can always choose other methods of birth control which are comparatively easier to use and more dependable like implants or IUDs. In any case, using a male condom along with the sponge will provide you with the best protection against pregnancy and also STDs.

Hence, with lots of other options available, sponges can be opted for when other options are not feasible.

Also Read: Natural Birth Control Method

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