Contraceptive Sponge for Birth Control

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Topic Overview

The vaginal contraceptive sponge is a barrier method of birth control. It contains a spermicide called nonoxynol-9. The sponge also blocks the cervix so sperm can't pass. It can be inserted immediately before intercourse or up to 24 hours before. It is left in place for 6 hours after intercourse.

Effectiveness in preventing pregnancy

The sponge is less effective for women who have delivered vaginally than it is for women who have not.

  • Sponge failure rates for women who have never delivered vaginally range from 9% to 12%. In other words, for this group of women, from 9 to 12 out of 100 will become pregnant in the first year of using a sponge.footnote 1
  • Sponge failure rates for women who have given birth by vaginal delivery range from 20% to 24%. For this group of women, from 20 to 24 out of 100 will become pregnant in the first year of using a sponge.footnote 1

The difference in sponge failure rates for women who have given birth to children vaginally and those who have not may be due to changes in the cervix after vaginal delivery.

Effectiveness in preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

The sponge does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including infection with HIV. Some studies show that use of the sponge dries and irritates the vagina, which may increase the risk of HIV infection.footnote 2

The use of spermicides with nonoxynol-9 may increase your risk of getting HIV/AIDS. So be sure to use a condom for STI protection unless you know that you and your partner are infection-free.

Advantages of contraceptive sponge

  • It does not affect future fertility for either the woman or the man.
  • It is used only at the time of sexual intercourse.
  • It is safe to use while breast-feeding.
  • It is available in drugstores without a prescription.

Disadvantages of contraceptive sponge

Failure rates for the sponge and other barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control. Other disadvantages of the sponge include the following:

  • Some people are embarrassed to use this method or feel the method interrupts foreplay or intercourse.
  • The couple must be comfortable with using the sponge and be prepared to use it every time they have sex.
  • The sponge is not recommended for use during the first 6 weeks after having a baby.



  1. Trussell J, Guthrie KA (2011). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 20th ed., pp. 45–74. Atlanta: Ardent Media.
  2. Speroff L, Darney PD (2011). Barrier methods of contraception. In A Clinical Guide for Contraception, 5th ed., pp. 281–313. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Femi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology

Current as ofMay 22, 2015