Learning About Birth Control: Sponge

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The sponge and where it goes in the vagina

What is the sponge?

The sponge is used to prevent pregnancy. A sponge is called a barrier method because it keeps the sperm and eggs apart. The sponge also contains a spermicide, which kills the sperm or stops the sperm from moving.

You insert the sponge into your vagina. After you insert the sponge, you have protection for up to 24 hours. You must leave the sponge in place for 6 hours after sex. Don't leave it in for more than a total of 30 hours.

How well does it work?

How well the sponge works depends on whether you have delivered a child vaginally or not.

  • For women who have not had a vaginal childbirth:
    • In the first year of use, when the sponge is used exactly as directed, 9 women out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy. When it is not used exactly as directed, 12 women out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy.
  • For women who have had a vaginal childbirth:
    • In the first year of use, when the sponge is used exactly as directed, 20 women out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy. When it is not used exactly as directed, 24 women out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy.

There is less chance of getting pregnant if you and your partner use a male condom with the sponge.

Be sure to tell your doctor about any health problems you have or medicines you take. He or she can help you choose the birth control method that is right for you.

What are the advantages of the sponge?

  • The sponge is available without a prescription at family planning clinics, in drugstores, online, and in some grocery stores.
  • The sponge doesn't use hormones. So you can use the sponge if you don't want to take hormones or can't take hormones because you have certain health problems or concerns.
  • The sponge is safe to use while breastfeeding.
  • It doesn't affect your menstrual cycle.
  • It costs less than hormonal types of birth control.
  • The sponge can be inserted up to 24 hours ahead of time so you don't have to interrupt sex.

What are the disadvantages of the sponge?

  • The sponge doesn't prevent pregnancy as well as IUDs or hormonal forms of birth control.
  • It prevents pregnancy only if you use it every time you have intercourse.
  • The sponge doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes or HIV. If you're not sure whether your sex partner might have an STI, use a condom to protect against disease.
  • The spermicide in a sponge may cause an allergic reaction. It can cause itching or sores in the vagina or on the penis.
  • You may have to interrupt sex to insert the sponge.
  • You may not be comfortable with inserting the sponge each time you have intercourse.
  • You cannot use the sponge during your period.

How do you use the sponge?

Read the instructions that come with the sponge. If you don't use it correctly, you could get pregnant. To more effectively prevent pregnancy, use a male condom with the sponge.

  • You can insert the sponge up to 24 hours or right before having intercourse.
  • After intercourse, leave the sponge in for 6 hours.
  • The sponge should not be left in longer than a total of 30 hours.

NOTE: If you think you used the sponge incorrectly, you can use emergency contraception, such as the morning-after pill (Plan B). You can use emergency contraception for up to 5 days after having had sex, but it works best if you take it right away.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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