By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Mar 22, 2024
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Cite this Response

Alice! Health Promotion. "Where can I find the birth control sponge and what’s the efficacy rate?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 22 Mar. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/where-can-i-find-birth-control-sponge-and-whats-efficacy-rate. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, March 22). Where can I find the birth control sponge and what’s the efficacy rate?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/where-can-i-find-birth-control-sponge-and-whats-efficacy-rate.

Dear Alice,

I've always used condoms combined with a sponge for birth control. That worked well because if anything happened with the condom, there was always a backup — it made me feel safer. Then I get to New York, I go into three drug stores, and none of them have sponges. Now what? I don't want to rely on just condoms, I don't want to take pills because the whole hormone thing is rather frightening, and a doctor said that diaphragms make you more prone to get urinary tract infections, which I get frequently. So what am I supposed to do? What's up with this total absence of sponges?

— Spongeless

Dear Alice,

In exploring other forms of contraception, what is the reliability rate of the "sponge"?

— Spongey

Dear Spongeless and Spongey,

Since its debut in 1983, the contraceptive sponge has had a rollercoaster relationship in the United States (US) market. The sponge first disappeared from the market in 1995 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered a manufacturing issue. It became available again in 2008 after a new company bought manufacturing rights to the Today Sponge, becoming the sole provider of contraceptive sponges in the US. While the Today Sponge was once available for purchase at drugstores and online retail sites, the company has since decided to discontinue the product with no expected return date. As such, there are currently no alternative methods for purchasing a contraceptive sponge within the US market.  

The contraceptive sponge works by trapping and absorbing sperm into the sponge while simultaneously releasing spermicide, a chemical that prevents the sperm from reaching the egg. It also acts as a physical barrier by covering the cervix to prevent sperm from entering. Because of this, the sponge is only 88 percent effective. This is true even if used correctly 100 percent of the time among those who have never given birth. After giving birth, the effectiveness of the sponge reduces to only 80 percent. This is because pregnancy can change the shape and size of your cervix, which prevents the sponge from fully covering it.

While it may seem advantageous to use this form of birth control because it’s hormone-free, doesn’t require a prescription, and offers 24-hour protection, there are also many side effects to consider that can outweigh the benefits. Use of contraceptive sponges may increase the risk of developing vaginitis, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and toxic shock syndrome, all of which can lead to more serious health conditions. Additionally, spermicide can irritate the delicate tissues of the vagina and urethra.  

That said, it’s speculated that the product was likely discontinued due to the availability of other non-hormonal forms of birth control that are more effective and less likely to have side effects.

Spongeless, you mentioned that you’re not comfortable with hormonal forms of birth control and that diaphragms may not be an option considering your susceptibility to UTIs. Luckily, there are many other non-hormonal options that you may be eligible for, such as the copper intrauterine device (IUD), cervical cap, vaginal contraceptive gel, condom (both internal and external, and more. Before making any changes to your contraception methods, it may be helpful to first speak with a health care provider. They can review your options with you and help you determine which form of birth control may be best based on your wants, needs, and risk factors.  

For more information on birth control options, feel free to check out the Birth Control Basics fact sheet. While there are no current forms of male birth control pills or gels on the market, it may be something you choose to stay up to date on, as it may be an alternative option in the near future.  

Three cheers for soaking up some birth control knowledge! 

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