Monday, May 25, 2009

The Sponge Is Back (Again)

The Today contraceptive sponge is once again returning to U.S. drugstore shelves. The sponge has been intermittently available over the last 15 years, due to production problems and ownership switches. By this summer, we should once again be able to find the sponge in the major pharmacy chains, and not just have to search for it online.

The sponge is a little polyurethane pillow (with no latex) that contains nonoxynol-9 spermicide. It may be placed up to 24 hours before intercourse, and it protects against pregnancy for up to 24 hours, no matter how many times you have sex. After intercourse, you should leave the sponge in place for at least 6 hours, to allow maximum spermicide action. But make sure you remove it before 30 hours--just like a tampon, you don't want it to remain in your body past its prime or you risk infection (toxic shock syndrome).

On one hand, I think the sponge's return is wonderful. It's available over-the-counter, no prescription required, and women can buy them ahead of time just like condoms, to be used when you've deemed a fellow "sponge-worthy". And the more birth control options that women have, the better. The sponge is to be packaged in boxes of three and sell for $14.99.

But before you flush your pills or yank out your ring, be warned. The sponge is primarily a vehicle for spermicide--yes, there's a small physical barrier in front of your cervix that helps prevent sperm passage. But it's not that much more effective than the many spermicide products (film, foam, suppository) that have been available for years. How effective is the sponge? If you haven't had a baby, the failure rate is around 16%...and if you have had a baby, the failure rate is a whopping 32%. And unlike condoms, the sponge won't protect you against STDs. Risks of sponge use include vaginal irritation, allergic reaction, and trouble removing the sponge. So don't choose the sponge over more effective methods, if you're happy with what you're using now.

If you've used the sponge before, what did you think? Do you think you'd ever use the sponge in the future?

Photo credit: m kasahara

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