Center for Young Women's Health

Contraceptive Sponges



  • The contraceptive sponge is more effective when used with a condom.
  • Contraceptive sponges do not protect you against STDs or HIV.
  • Sponges should be NOT be used during your period.

spongeThe contraceptive sponge is a vaginal barrier method that prevents pregnancy by keeping sperm from fertilizing an egg that your ovaries produce each month. The sponge does not protect you from STIs. To lessen the risk of getting an STI, a condom should always be used. Women who are allergic to nonoxynol-9 should not use any vaginal barrier method that contains this spermicide.


What is the contraceptive sponge?

The contraceptive sponge is a small, donut-shaped foam sponge that contains a a spermicide called Nonoxynol-9. It's a nonhormonal vaginal barrier method of birth control that is fairly easy to insert.


Out of 100 *nulliparous women using contraceptive sponges
Typical use: 12 women become pregnant 12 Pregnant Women
Perfect use: 9 women become pregnant 9 Pregnant Women


Out of 100 *parous women using contraceptive sponges
Typical use: 24 women become pregnant 24 Pregnant Women
Perfect use: 20 women become pregnant 20 Pregnant Women


*Nulliparous is a medical term that means that a woman has never given birth to a baby.

*Parous is a medical term that means a woman has given birth to one or more babies.


How does the contraceptive sponge work?

After the contraceptive sponge is placed in the vagina, it prevents pregnancy by releasing a spermicide called Nonoxynol-9. This spermicide works by killing or paralyzing sperm that comes into the vagina. A “dimple” on one side of the sponge fits over your cervix to form a barrier to sperm, preventing sperm from reaching an egg. The dimple also lowers the chances that the sponge will move out of place during sexual intercourse. The other side of the sponge has a loop for easy removal. There is only one size sponge.


Will my partner or I be able to feel the sponge?

The sponge is soft and once inserted properly you or your partner should not be able to feel it. If it feels uncomfortable, it may not be inserted the right way. If this happens, slowly and gently reposition the sponge deep into your vagina until it covers your cervix but be careful not to push your fingernail through it! You should be able to feel the loop.


How do I use the contraceptive sponge?

Wash your hands first. Remove the sponge from the package it comes in and wet it with two tablespoons of clean water. Squeeze the sponge once. This activates the spermicide. Next, insert the sponge into your vagina by sliding it along the back wall until it is up against your cervix. The dimple side of the sponge should face your cervix and the loop should face away from your cervix. Make sure that you feel the sponge covering your cervix. You can insert the sponge just before intercourse OR several hours ahead of time. You can have some protection against pregnancy for a total of 24 hours, no matter how many times you have sexual intercourse.


Leave the sponge inside of your vagina for at least 6 hours after you have finished having intercourse, but no more than a total of 30 hours. Before you remove the sponge, wash your hands and take hold of the loop on the sponge with one finger. Pull on the loop gently to remove the sponge. Make sure that the sponge is in one piece after you have removed it. Then throw it away. If it's torn, you should remove all the pieces from your vagina. If you have any concerns that the sponge isn't in one piece, contact your health care provider.


What about douching after intercourse?

Douching is not recommended after intercourse, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women not douche at all. Douching does not prevent pregnancy. There are no benefits and it is not safe because it can cause an increased risk in pelvic inflammatory disease, bacterial vaginosis (an infection of the vagina), and ectopic pregnancy (implantation of the fertilized egg outside of the uterus). Your body makes everything it needs to keep it clean. All you should be using to clean the outside of your vagina is water and soap. However, if you decide to douche in spite of this warning, you should wait at least 6 hours after intercourse so that the spermicide does not get washed away.


How effective is the contraceptive sponge against pregnancy?

The contraceptive sponge is 88% effective with typical use. This means that if 100 women use the contraceptive sponge, 12 women will become pregnant in a year with typical use. The contraceptive sponge is less effective against pregnancy for women that have already had a baby.


Does the contraceptive sponge protect against STDs?

No, The contraceptive sponge does not protect against STDs. In fact, spermicides are not recommended for women who have multiple daily acts of intercourse because the irritation may increase the risk of acquiring HIV.


Can I be allergic to the contraceptive sponge?

Allergy is uncommon but some women may be allergic to the spermicide that is in the sponge or the polyurethane foam or preservative. If you use the sponge and experience any burning, itching, redness, rash or irritation, stop using the sponge and contact your health care provider.


Should I use any other type of contraception with the contraceptive sponge?

It's best to use a male condom when you're using the contraceptive sponge. This will increase the effectiveness against pregnancy and lessen your chance of getting an STI.


Is there anything else I should know?

Women who use the contraceptive sponge or other barrier methods of birth control should be aware of the very low risk of getting toxic shock syndrome (TSS). The contraceptive sponge should not be used during menstruation, if you have ever had toxic shock syndrome, or if your sex partner has HIV/AIDS. If you do not know if your partner is infected, choose another form of birth control.


The price of the contraceptive sponge varies, however they usually cost between $9-15 USD for three.


Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 8/22/2013


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