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Contraception You Control: Over-The-Counter Barrier Methods


The Birth Control Sponge 

The sponge is a round piece of polyurethane foam coated with spermicide. It is inserted into the vagina before sex and acts as a barrier, absorbing semen and preventing sperm from entering the cervix. The Today Sponge was originally developed in the 1980s, but was taken off the market in the mid 90s due to manufacturing problems. The sponge has since made a comeback and can be purchased at most pharmacies and supermarkets. The sponge is more effective when used with a latex condom.

  • The sponge can be inserted ahead of time.
  • It can be left in place for up to 30 hours, and can handle repeated instances of sex over the course of 24 hours.
  • The sponge does not affect a woman's natural hormones.
  • It usually can't be felt by either partner.
  • No prescription is necessary.
  • It can be used during breastfeeding.


  • The sponge is inserted manually, which some users find to be difficult.
  • The sponge does not protect against STIs and may increase your risk of contracting HIV from an infected partner.
  • The sponge should not be used during menstruation due to increased risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome.
  • It may not be as effective for women who have recently been pregnant. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests waiting 6 weeks after giving birth (or until the cervix and uterus return to their usual size) before using the sponge. Ask your provider if you’re not sure if it is safe for you to use the sponge.

    The Female Condom

    Sometimes referred to as an internal condom, a female condom is a nitrile pouch that is inserted into the vagina and acts as a barrier against semen. FC2 brand female condoms can be purchased at most pharmacies and supermarkets. Female condoms are 95% effective in preventing pregnancy when used correctly.

    • Female condoms protect against STIs.
    • A female condom can be put in place 8 hours before sex.
    • Female condoms can be used during your period, during pregnancy, or after a recent pregnancy.
    • They are hypoallergenic and can be used by people with latex allergies.
    • Female condoms do not require an erect penis to stay in place.


    • Some users report that the material can make noise during sex.
    • Female condoms may be difficult to insert at first.
    • If left in too long, the female condom may cause a urinary tract infection.

    To read more about birth control options, click here or talk to your Women’s Health CT provider.

    The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Barrier Methods of Birth Control: Spermicide, Condom, Sponge, Diaphragm, and Cervical Cap." http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Barrier-Methods-of-Birth-Control-Spermicide-Condom-Sponge-Diaphragm-and-Cervical-Cap#it
    Casey, Frances E. "Mechanical Barriers." Contraception. December 2016. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/258507-overview#a4
    Medline Plus. "Female Condoms." https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004002.htm
    Planned Parenthood. "Birth Control." https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control.
    Singer, Natasha. "Contraceptive Sponge Makes a Return to Pharmacy Shelves." NYTimes.com. May 22, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/23/business/23sponge.html (accessed February 9, 2017).

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