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The cervical cap or sponge are two different barrier-method birth control devices. Both devices work by placing a physical barrier between the uterus and the male sperm, and are inserted into the vagina prior to sexual intercourse. The cervical cap is a soft, flexible disc made from plastic or latex, while the sponge is a round, spongey plastic item with a polyester loop to ensure easy removal.
Using the cervical cap or sponge in conjunction with spermicidal cream, foam, or jelly can increase contraceptive effectiveness, as these products will immobilize the sperm. Used in combination with spermicide, the cervical cap is 86% effective and the sponge is 84 to 91% effective. These statistics apply to women who have not had a vaginal birth, as the stretching that occurs during this process means the cap and sponge will not fit as snugly. In mothers who have delivered vaginally, the cap’s effectiveness drops to 71% and the sponge’s effectiveness drops to 68 to 80%. Unlike condoms, cervical caps and sponges do not prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
Cervical caps or sponges may appeal to women who prefer not to use hormonal forms of birth control. However, some women do not like inserting these devices. Although there are very few side effects associated with the cap or the sponge, some women may experience vaginal irritation, pain or discomfort, vaginal or urinary tract infections, or allergies to the spermicide used alongside these devices. Cervical caps and sponges must be left in place for six to eight hours after sexual intercourse. They should not be left in much longer than this, however, as they carry a risk of toxic shock syndrome.
A cervical cap will last for one to two years, provided it does not develop any holes. A cervical sponge should be disposed of after one use. The cervical cap is only available via prescription. It must be fitted by a doctor or healthcare provider, who will demonstrate how to insert and remove it. The sponge can be purchased without a prescription at any drug store, supermarket, or family planning clinic.