The sponge — it’s back!

Remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine freaked out when she heard her beloved sponge was going off the market? I remember wondering, ‘What the heck is a sponge??” Well, the sponge is back and I’m sure Elaine is dancing somewhere in excitement. (Wait a minute…how old would Elaine be now???)

The sponge is a form of birth control. It is a soft, disposable polyurethane foam sponge that contains 1000mg of nonoxynol 9, which kills sperm on contact. It is inserted into the vagina and provides pregnancy protection for up to 24 hours. Protection begins right away and lasts for 24 hours even with repeated acts of intercourse. After intercourse, it should remain in place for at least 6 hours (should not be left in the vagina longer than 30 hours). The sponge is for one time use only.

The sponge works in three ways:

  1. Nonoxynol 9 (spermicide) kills sperm on contact before they can reach the egg
  2. The sponge blocks the cervix (opening to the uterus) so the sperm cannot enter
  3. The sponge traps and absorbs the sperm

The sponge is soft and is formulated to feel like normal vaginal tissue. When placed properly neither partner should feel it. It is designed with a ribbon loop so it can be removed easily.

In clinical studies, about 1 out of 10 women (9-22%) became pregnant when using the sponge correctly all of the time. The possibility of getting pregnant increased to about 1 out of 7 (13-16%) when not used correctly. To help put this in perspective here is a list of the pregnancy rates for some birth control methods. It shows the number of women out of 100 who will become pregnant in the first year of use.

Sterilization Less than 1
Intrauterine Device Less than 1
Hormone Implant Less than 1
Hormone Injection 3
Pill, Patch, Vaginal Ring 8
Male Condoms (no spermicide) 15
Diaphragm 16
Vaginal Sponge 16-32
Female Condom 21
Withdrawal 25-27
Spermicides Alone  29
No Contraception  85

It’s important to note that the sponge does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. It should not be used during menstruation as the risk for Toxic Shock Syndrome increases. Also, nonoxynol can be irritating to the vaginal tissue or the tip of the penis which can increase your risk of acquiring an STD.

As with any birth control method the sponge is not 100%. As mentioned before in this blog, the best (most foolproof) birth control option to consider is the IUD. (See IUD blog here).