Women have been using various birth control methods to prevent unwanted pregnancies for thousands of years. While some of the methods initially used were quite questionable in terms of safety, medical advancements have made available a number of different safe and highly effective birth control methods to prevent from conceiving through vaginal intercourse.
While some birth control methods are quite complicated and require the assistance of a medical professional, there are a few that are easy to manage on your own. One of them is the use and placement of the Birth Control Sponge.
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What is the Birth Control Sponge?
A birth control sponge is a female contraceptive device which offers effective protection
against unplanned pregnancies during intercourse. A small donut shaped disk, the birth control sponge is made from polyurethane foam that is designed to prevent the ejaculated sperm from entering into the uterus through the cervix.
Available over the counter for purchase at a majority of pharmacies and convenience stores, the birth control sponge, also known as the contraceptive sponge, can be placed inside the vagina directly by a woman herself. This is to be done either right before intended intercourse, or up to 24 hours prior.
This contraceptive device was initially introduced in the market in 1983. An instant hit, the birth control sponge sold popularly for a period of 12 years until the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) determined the sponge unsafe for internal use. By then, over 12 percent of women between the ages of 15 to 44 have used the sponge at least once as a preventative measure during sexual intercourse.
The sponge was reintroduced into the market with the name of Today Sponge and is currently the only FDA approved brand of the birth control sponge available in the United States.
How Does the Birth Control Sponge Work?
The birth control sponge is classified as a vaginal barrier contraceptive. Its soft doughnut shape allows the sponge to be inserted deep into the vagina before sexual intercourse, where it unfolds and forms a barrier right in front of the cervix, thereby covering it and preventing the sperm from gaining entry into the uterus.
The sponge is also spermicidal, containing a spermicide called Nonoxynol-9. Once put in
place, the sponge releases the spermicide, which then either kills or paralyzes the sperm as it moves through the vaginal canal, preventing it from reaching and fertilizing the egg.
The dip in the sponge which gives it its doughnut shape forms a wall in front of the cervix, effectively trapping any sperm that does manage to move past and reach the cervix. The doughnut dip is also what helps the birth control sponge stay in place during the course of the sexual activity, preventing it from slipping or lowering.
The birth control sponge is a very effective contraceptive method that immediately begins working after placement and remains effective up to 24 hours after insertion. While the contraceptive device can safely stay within the vagina for as long as 30 hours at a stretch, you should know that the sponge needs to remain in place at least six hours after sexual intercourse for it to effectively prevent conception. The video introduce how the birth control sponge work.
Advantages/Disadvantages and Effectiveness of Birth Control Sponges
Much like every other contraceptive method, the birth control sponge also has its advantages and disadvantages along with a slew of factors which affect its relative effectiveness in terms of preventing unwanted pregnancies.
There are a number of advantages of using a sponge as your contraceptive of choice. They include, but are not limited to:
- The birth control spongeis readily available at health clinics, and over the counter at pharmacies, supermarkets, and community health centers and even online.
- It comes in a generic one-size-fits-all form and does not require a prescription from a medical professional nor does it need a custom fit.
- It can be inserted immediately before intercourse or up to 24 hours before sex.
- It can provide effective contraception for a period of 24 hours.
- The birth control spongeis small and packaged individually so it’s easy to carry, and small enough to fit into the pocket of a pair of jeans.
- Once placed correctly, a woman can engage in sexual activity as many times as she wants in a 24 hour period without the fear of an unwanted conception.
- Soft and almost squishy, the sponge is not noticeable during intercourse for neither of the partners.
- It is a hormone free option and can be used safely by people who are unable to use hormonal contraceptive methods such as the birth control pill, or injection.
As all other contraceptive methods, the birth control sponge also has its disadvantages. They include, but are not limited to:
- Unlike other contraceptive methods, using the birth control spongeis quite the
inconvenient affair. Not only is it messy to insert, it is equally as unpleasant to remove.
- Some users and their partners develop an allergy to the spermicide nonoxynol-9.
- The effectiveness of the contraceptive is affected by its placement. Since the insertion is slightly tricky, it’s difficult to ensure that the sponge is correctly positioned at the cervix. In case it is not located in the right position, not only can it be uncomfortable for the user, it will also raise the chances of conception during intercourse.
- There are chances of the birth control spongeslipping or moving during intercourse.
- The sponge can only be used once for a 24 hour period when opened and placed.
- This contraceptive method only prevents pregnancies and is not protective against any sexually transmitted diseases.
According to the company Today’s Sponge, the birth control sponge method successfully prevents pregnancies in 76 to 88 percent of the cases when used as directed. However, the birth control sponge’s effectiveness is affected depending on whether or not the user has given birth before.
The industry research determines that only 9 out of a 100 women will get pregnant if they have always used the sponge correctly. However, the number rises to 12 out of a 100 in cases where the sponge was placed incorrectly. There has been recorded one pregnancy per 1287 acts of sexual activity.
For women who have given birth prior to use, they are more likely to have the contraceptive method fail despite correct use and placement. Approximately 20 out of a 100 women are known to have conceived with the sponge in place during sexual intercourse.
Based on these numbers, and the fact that the sponge offers no protection what so ever against sexually transmitted diseases, it is highly recommended that male partners either use condoms for added contraception or apply the pulling out method in order to safely prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
User Guidelines for Birth Control Sponge
Birth control methods such as the condom are quite easy and quick to use, especially when needed for immediate use. The birth control sponge is slightly more difficult to maneuver and place correctly in the heat of the moment.
For a novice, positioning a sponge can take a tad bit more time and preparation than they bargained for.
As such, here is a detailed directive of how to use the birth control sponge for optimal results:
Since the sponge itself is quite small in size and needs to be inserted deep within the vaginal canal to be placed directly at the cervix in order to block the entry of the sperm, the user needs to ensure that their hands are clean before placement.
As such, before you begin handling the sponge, it is recommended that you thoroughly wash your hands with soap.
Once you are ready to place the sponge, pull it out of its packaging and wet the sponge
thoroughly with free flowing clean water. In case you are unsure about the cleanliness of your tap water, we suggest using mineral instead.
As you wet the birth control sponge, squeeze the doughnut in order to activate the spermicide contained within. The sponge should be all the way wet but it should not be dripping water. As you squeeze the sponge, it should be very sudsy, almost slippery.
Once it is, the sponge can be considered ready for insertion.
There is an attached fabric loop on the other side of the doughnut dip. This loop is intended to help you manipulate the sponge in place directly over the cervix. For insertion, fold the sponge directly in hand and hold it away from the loop. It should appear long and narrow.
Insert the sponge directly into your vaginal canal, as deep as you can go and then release it. As the sponge is released, it will unfold itself and cover the cervix to block the path of the sperm.
In case you feel the need for it, slide your finger around the edge of the sponge to move it into position, ensuring that the cervix is completely covered.
While you can insert the sponge immediately before engaging in sexual intercourse, because the sponge remains actively spermicidal for up to 24 hours, it is recommended that you place it a few hours beforehand so that you may adjust it as need be.
A user can safely have sex multiple times while using the sponge. However, it needs to be removed before the 30 hour mark following the insertion of the device.
Follow the same protocol for the removal of the sponge as you would for the insertion, that is, thoroughly wash your hands with soap before inserting your fingers within the vaginal canal to remove it.
The fact that the sponge can become brittle a few hours after use can make it slightly cumbersome to remove it. However, in case you have difficulties in reaching the fabric loop and pulling the birth control sponge out, you can bear down (like you would if you were going to the bathroom) and directly grab the sponge to pull it out.
Birth Control Sponge Side Effects and Risks
While the sponge is devoid of synthetic hormones which can cause adverse side effects in some users, the contraceptive sponge itself also has a few health risks associated with frequent use.
Here are some of the side effects and risks of using a birth control sponge:
- According to the birth control sponge reviewsthe spermicide is known to cause an allergic reaction in some users and their partners such as rash, fever, itchiness, redness, burning, or irritation.
- The polyurethane foam used to manufacture the sponge can also cause allergic reactions similar to that of the spermicide.
- It does not prevent the spread of STDs and thus puts the user at risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted conditions.
- Since the sponge is absorbent it can cause discomfort after prolonged use, especially in people who generally experience vaginal dryness. A silicone based lubricant is recommended for use during sex with the sponge as the contraceptive of choice.
- Similar to tampons, the user of a birth control sponge also runs the risk of developing toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
- The sponge is contraindicated for use during menstruation.
- The sponge is not indicated for use by people who have recently had an abortion.
- People who have recurrent reproductive tract infections are recommended to use an alternative contraceptive method.
This form of contraception is quite economical. While the retail price generally varies, a packet of birth control sponges costs anywhere from $9 to $15 for a box which may contain up to three sponges.