Birth Control Sponge

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on August 12, 2022
3 min read

The birth control sponge is a small doughnut-shaped device with an indentation in the middle. It’s made of polyurethane foam that is coated with spermicide, a chemical that kills sperm. Women insert it into their vagina before sex to keep a man’s sperm from getting into their uterus and possibly making them pregnant.

You may hear it called the contraceptive sponge or the Today sponge, after the only FDA-approved brand.

You can insert the sponge up to 24 hours before you have sex. To do so:

  1. Take it out of the package. Moisten it with about 2 tablespoons of water and squeeze gently to activate the spermicide.
  2. Hold the sponge with the strap down and the indentation facing up.
  3. Get into a comfortable position, such as squatting.
  4. Fold the sides of the sponge up.
  5. Use one or two fingers to slide it into your vagina as far as you can.
  6. Use one finger to check that it covers your entire cervix.

The sponge must stay in place for at least 6 hours after you have sex. But don’t leave it in for more than 30 hours total.

To take it out, gently pull on the strap. It may help to bear down with your vaginal muscles. If they’re too tight to remove it, wait a few minutes and try again.

Check the sponge to make sure that it isn’t torn and that there aren’t any pieces still in your vagina. Then throw it away in the trash.

Of 100 women who have never had a baby and who use the sponge in a typical year, about 14 will get pregnant. This means it is 86% effective.

Because childbirth can stretch your vagina and cervix, the sponge doesn’t fit as closely in women who’ve had a baby. About 27 of 100 will get pregnant while using the sponge, an effectiveness rate of 73%.

By comparison, male condoms are 87% effective, and birth control pills are 93% effective.

Does the sponge protect against sexually transmitted diseases?

No. The male condom is the best way to protect against STDs such as HIV.

The sponge protects against pregnancy in three ways:

  • The spermicide kills sperm cells for 24 hours. You can have sex during that time without needing more spermicide.
  • It’s designed to trap and absorb semen before the sperm have a chance to enter your cervix, which connects the vagina to the uterus.
  • It acts as a physical barrier between the sperm and the cervix.

Some women prefer the sponge because:

  • You can buy it without a prescription.
  • It doesn’t have any hormones.
  • It doesn’t affect breastfeeding.
  • You can have sex more than once in a 24-hour period without having to replace it.
  • Your partner doesn’t have to be involved in using it.

Disadvantages of the birth control sponge include:

  • It may be hard to remove.
  • You can still get an STD.
  • Some women have a burning feeling or an allergic reaction.
  • Spermicide can irritate your genitals, raising your risk of HIV.
  • Leaving a sponge in place for too long could lead to toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

Pick a different birth control method if you’re on your period or if you recently gave birth, had a miscarriage, or had an abortion. You also shouldn’t use the sponge if you get a lot of urinary tract infections or have had TSS before.

You can buy a sponge over the counter in most pharmacies and clinics.