Birth Control Sponge Advantages and Disadvantages

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Using the birth control sponge may be the best way for you to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Made famous by Seinfeld's character Elaine for deeming men "spongeworthy," the popular Today brand is now back on the market after a 10-year hiatus. Other brands of sponges are available, but Today is the most consumer recognizable.

Although it does not protect against HIV, AIDS, or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the sponge gives women a non-hormonal option of birth control.

How Does the Birth Control Sponge Work?

The sponge is a small, soft, round polyurethane foam that fits high inside the vagina. It covers the cervix. A small dip in the sponge helps hold it in place. Spermicide inside the sponge helps make sperm immobile and kill them.

Always read the directions included in the packaging. Most sponges require being wet with water before insertion. Insertion can be done hours before a sexual encounter occurs; always leave the sponge in for six hours after intercourse. Multiple sexual encounters can occur within 24 hours of the original sponge insertion, depending on the brand of the sponge. Before using the sponge, you may also want to consult with a doctor for proper usage.

To remove the sponge, simply pull down on the small loop at the bottom of the sponge. If you cannot remove the sponge or it breaks, seek a physician's help immediately.

Because the birth control sponge is a non-hormonal form of protection, a doctor's prescription is not required. The over-the-counter (OTC) method can be purchased online or at retail, discount, and drugstores nationwide.

What Are the Advantages of the Sponge?

As previously mentioned, the sponge is a good choice for persons who do not wish to use hormonal birth control. No prescription required means that couples who use this method can purchase the sponge at any time without the hassle of a doctor's visit. Additionally, the OTC status makes the sponge an affordable option.

Other advantages of the sponge include:

  • Portability
  • Use during breastfeeding
  • Multiple uses out of one sponge within a certain timeframe
  • Neither partner can feel it
  • Because the sponge can be inserted hours before sex, the act does not need to stop in order to get contraceptives

If you decide you want to become pregnant, the only thing you need to do is discontinue use of the sponge. Unlike many hormonal birth control methods, there is no "waiting" period for your body to readjust itself. Fertility is not affected by use of the birth control sponge. You can begin trying to conceive immediately.

The sponge is best suited for women who are in a monogamous relationship because it does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. If you choose to use a sponge and you and your partner have not been tested, use a male condom to prevent STDs.

What Are the Downfalls of the Sponge?

Despite the many advantages of using the sponge, there are a few things to keep in mind when using the sponge. The failure rate is perhaps the biggest disadvantage.

According to Planned Parenthood, in the first year of use 16 out of 100 women will become pregnant if they have not previously had a child. With perfect use, nine out of 100 will get pregnant.

Because having a vaginal birth makes the sponge less effective, the numbers rise for women who have had children. Thirty-two out of 100 women who have children will become pregnant in the first year of use. Even with perfect use, 20 out of 100 will become pregnant

Other potential problems with the birth control sponge include:

  • Allergic reaction to polyurethane and/or spermicide (do not use if you know you are allergic)
  • Slight increased risk of toxic shock syndrome
  • Yeast infection risk may rise
  • Do not use if recent birth, abortion, or miscarriage occurred
  • Do not use if menstruation or any type of vaginal bleeding occurs

Women may also find that the sponge is hard to insert or messy. Others complain that it makes them "dry" during sex, but this problem can be corrected with use of a lubricant. Any lubricant used should be compatible with a spermicide or it will make the sponge ineffective.

If you find that the sponge is uncomfortable, check directions again. It is possible the insertion was not done correctly.

Any questions regarding the birth control sponge or other methods of birth control should be discussed with your physician.

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Birth Control Sponge Advantages and Disadvantages