Contraceptive sponge

The contraceptive sponge combines barrier and spermicidal methods to prevent conception. Sponges work in two ways. First, the sponge is inserted into the vagina, so it can cover the cervix and prevent any sperm from entering the uterus. Secondly, the sponge contains spermicide.[2]

Contraceptive sponge
Éponge spermicide.jpg
Protectaid sponge, in its plastic tray. It is removed from the tray before use.
First use1983
Failure rates (first year)
Perfect useNulliparous:9%[1]
Typical useNulliparous:12%[1]
User reminders?
Advantages and disadvantages
STI protectionNo
BenefitsMay be inserted 12–24 hours before intercourse
Risksyeast infection, rarely toxic shock syndrome

The sponges are inserted vaginally prior to intercourse and must be placed over the cervix to be effective. Sponges provide no protection from sexually transmitted infections. Sponges can provide contraception for multiple acts of intercourse over a 24-hour period, but cannot be reused beyond that time or once removed.[3]


Sponge's effectiveness is 91% if used perfectly by women who never gave birth, and 80% if used perfectly by women who have given at least one birth. Since it is hard to use the sponge perfectly every time having vaginal sex, the real effectiveness of the method is actually lower than the figures mentioned. It is advised to combine sponges with other birth control methods, like withdrawal of penis before ejaculation or condoms.[4]


To use the sponge, wet the sponge and squeeze it, fold it and put it in the vagina covering the cervix. A sponge works for 24 hours once put in, during which the female can have sex multiple times. Once the sponge is pulled out, it should not be reused and should be trashed, not flushed. The sponge should be left in place for 6 hours after having sex. A sponge should not be in the vagina for more than 30 hours.[5]


Sponges are a physical barrier, trapping sperm and preventing their passage through the cervix into the reproductive system. The spermicide is an important component of pregnancy prevention.

Side effectsEdit

People sensitive to Nonoxynol-9, an ingredient in the spermicide used in the sponge, may experience unpleasant irritation and may face increase risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Sponge users may have a slightly higher risk of Toxic shock syndrome.[6]

In popular cultureEdit

  • Shortly after they were taken off the U.S. market, the sponge was featured in an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld titled "The Sponge". In the episode, Elaine Benes conserves her remaining sponges by choosing to not have intercourse unless she is certain her partner is "sponge-worthy".[7] This was later revisited in the series finale when the pharmacist testifies against Elaine and her morality for buying a whole case of the sponges.
  • The film Clueless features a scene where the characters Dionne and Tai are discussing sex and Dionne is heard to ask Tai if the sponge would still work if the user has sex in water.
  • On the TV series My So-Called Life, the doctor tells Angela to use a sponge if she is thinking of having sex.
  • In the TV series Downton Abbey, Anna Bates, lady's maid to Lady Mary Crawley, buys a 1920s contraceptive sponge for her mistress. Later the device is found by Anna's husband John Bates who assumes she is using it herself.


  1. ^ a b c d Trussell, James (2011). "Contraceptive efficacy". In Hatcher, Robert A.; Trussell, James; Nelson, Anita L.; Cates, Willard Jr.; Kowal, Deborah; Policar, Michael S. (eds.). Contraceptive technology (20th revised ed.). New York: Ardent Media. pp. 779–863. ISBN 978-1-59708-004-0. ISSN 0091-9721. OCLC 781956734. Table 26–1 = Table 3–2 Percentage of women experiencing an unintended pregnancy during the first year of typical use and the first year of perfect use of contraception, and the percentage continuing use at the end of the first year. United States. Archived 2017-02-15 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Bith Control Sponge". Archived from the original on 9 January 2014. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  3. ^ "Today Sponge Vaginal Contraceptive Sponge Consumer Information Leaflet" (PDF). Mayer Laboratories, Inc. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  4. ^ "How effective is the sponge?". Planned Parenthood. Retrieved 2022-09-14.
  5. ^ "How do I use the sponge?". Planned Parenthood. Retrieved 2022-09-14.
  6. ^ "What are the disadvantages of using the sponge?". Planned Parenthood. Retrieved 2022-09-14.
  7. ^ Lavery, David and Sara Lewis Dunne (2006). Seinfeld, master of its domain: revisiting television's greatest sitcom, p. 247. Continuum International Publishing Group, ISBN 978-0-8264-1803-6

External linksEdit