Barrier Methods of Birth Control

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Quick GuideBirth Control Methods, Side Effects, Effectiveness

Birth Control Methods, Side Effects, Effectiveness

Contraceptive sponge

The contraceptive sponge is a doughnut-shaped ring of polyurethane foam and is impregnated with the spermicide Nonoxynol-9. This chemical confers most of the contraceptive efficacy of this product.

Before intercourse, a woman inserts the sponge high into the vagina in the manner similar to the insertion of a tampon. The spermicidal sponge should then act as a barrier in order to prevent sperm from reaching the cervix. Once in place, the sponge provides protection for up to 24 hours without the need for additional spermicide.

The sponge must remain in the vagina for at least 6 hours following intercourse in order to provide optimum contraception. However, the same sponge should never remain in the vagina for more than a total of 30 hours because of the risk of toxic shock syndrome. (Toxic shock syndrome is an uncommon and potentially very serious illness that is caused by a type of bacteria. This illness occurs when certain types of products, such as tampons,are left in place for excessive periods of time. Package inserts for these products are careful to specify how long they may be safely kept in place. Each sponge is discarded after a single use.

The sponge is generally an effective birth control. Some users of the contraceptive sponge may experience irritation and allergic reactions. The sponge can also be difficult to remove from the vagina. Removal has been made easier by the addition of a woven polyester loop which can be more easily grasped with the fingers.

The estimated contraceptive efficacy of the sponge is estimated to be between 64% and 82%. The spermicide may provide some protection against Chlamydia and gonorrhea, but otherwise, the degree of this protection is unknown.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/10/2016
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