First introduced to the public in 1994, the sponge was once one of the most popular forms of birth control. It was even made famous by an episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine questioned if her partners were “sponge-worthy.” While it has fluctuated in availability and popularity since, it is an effective and hormone-free birth control method with a large and faithful following.

What Is It?

The sponge is a barrier method of birth control, physically blocking sperm from fertilizing an egg by covering the cervix. Made out of soft polyurethane foam, the birth control sponge also contains spermicide to kill sperm.

How Does It Work?

When the birth control sponge is in place up against the cervix, it prevents pregnancy by blocking sperm from entering the uterus and fertilizing the egg in the fallopian tubes. At the same time, the sponge constantly releases spermicide to make sure sperm can’t make it through the cervix.

How Do I Use it?

The birth control sponge is available over the counter at drugstores or healthcare centers. To use, wet the sponge with clean water, squeeze to activate the spermicide, and then fold slightly and insert into the vagina as far as it can go. When you let go, the sponge will unfold and cover the cervix. The birth control sponge can be inserted immediately before sex or up to 24 hours before. Remove the sponge at least six hours after sex, but do not keep it in for more than 30 consecutive hours. Read the package instructions carefully before using the birth control sponge.

Effectiveness

When used correctly, the birth control sponge is 89 to 91 percent effective. To improve the effectiveness of the sponge, ask your partner to pull out before ejaculating or use a condom as added protection.

Benefits

The sponge is a very convenient form of birth control for women because it is easy to find and purchase and simple to use. Because it can be inserted hours beforehand, it does not necessarily interrupt the sexual experience. As a barrier method of birth control, it is particularly beneficial for women who cannot or prefer not to use synthetic hormones. It has no effect on a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Disadvantages

Unlike other barrier methods of birth control, the sponge does not protect against sexually transmitted disease. And it is slightly less effective than other types of birth control. While there are no side effects of using the sponge, some women may be sensitive to the ingredients in the spermicide, which could cause irritation and rash. The sponge also affects women in different ways—some report dryness, while others find it too messy.