No hormones, no prescription, and can be inserted up to 24 hours before sex.
The sponge is a round piece of white plastic foam with a little dimple on one side and a nylon loop across the top that looks like shoelace material. It’s pretty small—just two inches across—and you insert it way up in your vagina before you have sex. The sponge works in two ways: It blocks your cervix to keep sperm from getting into your uterus, and it continuously releases spermicide.
Comfortable with your body
If you’re not okay with putting your fingers inside yourself, the sponge probably isn’t for you. It’s a lot like putting in a tampon, though. If you can do that, you can probably manage the sponge.
It takes discipline
You’ve got to remember to insert the sponge each and every time you have sex, so it takes a bit of self-discipline and planning. But at least you can carry it with you in your purse if you want.
If you’re allergic to sulfa drugs, polyurethane, or spermicide, you shouldn’t use the sponge.
Not while you’re bleeding
If you’re having your period, don’t use the sponge.
The pregnancy question
You’ll be able to get pregnant as soon as you stop using the sponge. So protect yourself with another method right away.
The sponge is a little pricier than many other
over-the-counter methods, but a lot of women love them just the same.
- CVS: $5.67
- Target: N/A
- Walgreens: $5
- Walmart: N/A
- The manufacturer: $6 (price plus shipping)
- Payment assistance: Check with the your local family planning health centers and find out if they offer free or low-cost birth control (most do).
* Keep in mind that these prices are from a survey of online retailers; prices at the store may be a bit higher—or lower—than what we found online.
Here’s the handy thing about the sponge—
you can insert it up to 24 hours before you get busy. So there’s no need to fumble in the dark right before the big moment. But it does take a bit of practice getting it in, so follow these instructions.
How to put it in
- Wash your hands with soap and water.
- Wet the sponge with at least two tablespoons of water before you put it in.
- Give the sponge a gentle squeeze. (That’ll activate the spermicide.)
- With the dimple side facing up, fold the sponge in half upward, so that it winds up looking like a pouty little mouth.
- Slide the sponge as far into your vagina as your fingers will reach.
- The sponge will unfold on its own and cover your cervix when you let go.
- Slide your finger around the edge of the sponge to make sure it’s in place. You should be able to feel the nylon loop on the bottom of the sponge.
- You should only insert the sponge once (no repeat uses), but when it’s in, you can have sex as many times as you want.
- Badda-bing, you’re good to go.
How to take it out
- Wait at least six hours after sex to remove the sponge.
- Wash your hands with soap and water.
- Put a finger inside your vagina and feel for the loop.
- Once you’ve got the loop, pull the sponge out slowly and gently.
- Throw the sponge away in the trash. Don’t flush it!
There are positive and negative things to say
about each and every method. And everyone’s different—so what you experience may not be the same as what your friend experiences.
Positive “side effects”? You bet. There are actually lots of things about birth control that are good for your body as well as your sex life.
- You can put the sponge in up to 24 hours in advance
- You can have sex as many times as you like while it’s in
- Neither you nor your partner should be able to feel the sponge
- Doesn’t affect your hormones
- No prescription necessary
- Can be used while breastfeeding
Everyone worries about negative side effects, but for most women, they’re not a problem.
- Some women have a hard time inserting it
- Can cause vaginal irritation
- May make sex messier, or even dryer
- Some women are allergic to sulfa drugs, polyurethane, or spermicide and shouldn’t use the sponge
Also, failure rates vary wildly with the sponge. It all depends on whether or not you’ve had a kid. For women who haven’t given birth, the failure rate is 9% for perfect use, and 16% for real world use. For women who’ve already had kids, the failure rate is way higher—20% for perfect use and 32% for real world use.
We’re here to get this method working better for you.
And if it still doesn’t feel right, we’ve got ideas for other methods. Just remember: If you change methods, make sure you’re protected while you switch.
The sponge keeps falling out.
Try this: Check to see if you’ve got the sponge inserted deep enough, up against your cervix. (That’s the number one reason for it falling out.)
The sponge is irritating me.
The irritation is likely from the spermicide—and since there’s no way to separate the two, you’re probably out of luck.
Still not working?
Think about trying a method that doesn’t require any spermicide.
Real Stories (English)
Since his girlfriend experienced side effects from birth control pills in the past, she and James chose to use the sponge. It’s available over the counter, so it’s easy to get. She puts it in and he usually can’t feel it during sex. What he can feel, though, is his girlfriend and that’s important to James. Plus, unlike condoms, he doesn’t have to worry about the sponge breaking when he gets wilder in bed.
Alesondrje and her boyfriend used condoms when they first got together. But eventually they decided to move the relationship “to a deeper level” by getting tested for STIs and trading condoms for the sponge, a method her mom used back in the day and highly recommended. Alesondrje likes to use the sponge along with another method of birth control because she just doesn’t trust sperm. But she does trust her boyfriend to pull out. So they use withdrawal and feel secure knowing that have two lines of defense against those sneaky sperm.
Sonya started out on the pill and then tried the shot. But not being happy with either of those methods, she decided to try the sponge once a friend recommended it. It didn’t hurt that her clinic gave her a bunch for free. Because the sponge is still new to her, Sonya hasn’t yet told her boyfriend about the switch. She plans to tell him soon, but thinks he might find it weird that she puts something inside herself. We just hope he’s happy to hear that she’s taking steps to protect them both from unplanned pregnancies.
Natalia was on the pill, but then she lost her health insurance. She had to start paying $60 a month out of pocket and after a while, it was just too much. Natalia decided to switch to the sponge, a method she could get without a prescription. She likes that it’s easy to use and comfortable. She’s spending less than she was on the pill, but Natalia still finds the sponge to be a bit pricey. There’s a perk, though, that makes the cost of the sponge a little more tolerable. Natalia can wear one for 24 hours and have sex as many times as she wants. In other words, the more she does it, the more cost effective each sponge becomes!