Mayo Clinic Health Library

Contraceptive sponge

Updated: 01-08-2013

Definition

The contraceptive sponge is a type of birth control (contraceptive) that prevents sperm from entering the uterus. The contraceptive sponge is a soft, disk-shaped device made of polyurethane foam that is inserted into the vagina to cover the cervix. The contraceptive sponge contains spermicide, which blocks or kills sperm.

Before sex, the contraceptive sponge is inserted deep into the vagina, where it is held in place by vaginal muscles. The contraceptive sponge has a strap to assist with removal.

Only one contraceptive sponge — Today Sponge — has Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the U.S.

The contraceptive sponge can prevent pregnancy but doesn't offer protection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

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Why it's done

The contraceptive sponge is an over-the-counter contraceptive device. The contraceptive sponge:

  • Doesn't require a prescription or fitting
  • Can be inserted hours before sex and provides protection from pregnancy for 24 hours
  • Can be used as a backup method of birth control
  • Doesn't require a partner's cooperation

The contraceptive sponge isn't appropriate for everyone, however. Your health care provider may discourage use of the contraceptive sponge if:

  • You're sensitive or allergic to spermicide or polyurethane
  • You have vaginal abnormalities that interfere with the fit, placement or retention of the contraceptive sponge
  • You have frequent urinary tract infections
  • You have a history of toxic shock syndrome
  • You recently gave birth or had a miscarriage or an abortion
  • You're at high risk of contracting HIV or you have HIV or AIDS
  • You're at high risk of pregnancy — you're younger than age 30, you have sex three or more times a week, you've had previous contraceptive failure with vaginal barrier methods, or you're not likely to use the contraceptive sponge consistently
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Risks

An estimated 12 out of 100 women who've never given birth will get pregnant during the first year of typical use the contraceptive sponge. An estimated 24 out of 100 women who've given birth will get pregnant during the first year of typical use of the contraceptive sponge.

The contraceptive sponge doesn't offer protection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The contraceptive sponge and the spermicide it releases may cause:

  • Vaginal irritation or dryness
  • Urinary tract or vaginal infection
  • An increased risk of contracting STIs
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How you prepare

Before using the contraceptive sponge, read the product instructions carefully or consult your health care provider for advice. Use a backup method of contraception, such as a male condom or oral contraceptives, when you first use the contraceptive sponge.

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What you can expect

To use the contraceptive sponge:

  • Remove the sponge from its package. Moisten the contraceptive sponge with about 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) of clean water and squeeze it gently until the sponge becomes sudsy. Water activates the spermicide inside the contraceptive sponge. No additional spermicide is necessary.
  • Insert the contraceptive sponge. Find a comfortable position, such as squatting with your legs slightly spread apart. Separate your labia with one hand. With your other hand, hold the contraceptive sponge with the strap facing down and the dimple facing upward. Fold the sides of the contraceptive sponge upward. Point the folded contraceptive sponge toward your vagina and use one or two fingers to slide the sponge into your vagina as far up as it will go. Be careful not to push your fingernail through the contraceptive sponge while inserting it. Once inserted, the sponge offers pregnancy protection for up to 24 hours.
  • Check the placement of the contraceptive sponge. Slide your finger around the edge of the contraceptive sponge to make sure your cervix is covered.
  • After sex, leave the contraceptive sponge in place for at least six hours. However, do not leave it in longer than 24 hours.
  • Remove the contraceptive sponge. Gently remove the contraceptive sponge by pulling on the strap. If you can't find the strap, bear down or grasp the contraceptive sponge between your thumb and forefinger and pull. If your vaginal muscles are still holding the contraceptive sponge tightly, wait a few minutes and try again. Slip a finger between the contraceptive sponge and your cervix on one side to break any suction. Be careful not to push your fingernail through the sponge while removing it. After you remove the contraceptive sponge, make sure it's still intact. If the contraceptive sponge is torn upon removal, run a finger around the upper part of your vagina to sweep out any remaining pieces of the sponge.
  • Discard the used sponge. Place the used sponge in the trash. Don't flush it down the toilet. Never reuse a contraceptive sponge.

Avoid using the contraceptive sponge during your period. Douching isn't recommended — but if you douche, wait until at least six hours after sex to avoid washing away spermicide. Don't douche while the contraceptive sponge is in your vagina.

Contact your health care provider if:

  • You have signs and symptoms of toxic shock syndrome, such as sudden high fever, diarrhea, dizziness, vomiting, fainting or a rash that looks like sunburn
  • You have trouble removing the contraceptive sponge or you're able to remove only part of the sponge
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