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A Star Returns: Elaine Benes' Favorite Form of Birth Control Makes a Comeback

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WebMD Feature

After a four-year lapse, that little, round, pink piece of foam that gained national attention on the sitcom "Seinfeld" is scheduled for a comeback. The Today sponge, discontinued in 1995, may be back on shelves this fall, thanks to Allendale Pharmaceuticals of Allendale, New Jersey.

When the apparatus became scarce and, ultimately unavailable, many sponge devotees were outraged. Legend has it that they were driven to hoard the devices as Jerry Seinfeld's pal Elaine did on the TV show. In fact, Elaine weighed the "sponge-worthiness" of potential lovers to determine whether sleeping with them was worth giving up one of her coveted sponges.

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An Old Favorite

Once the most popular female-controlled, over-the-counter form of birth control, the sponge was used by 6.4 million women between 1983 and 1995. It was discontinued when the original manufacturers, American Home Products, decided not to spend the hefty amount needed to bring its factory equipment up to Federal Drug Administration (FDA) standards. The sponge was not pulled from the marketplace because of lack of safety or efficacy, as some rumors had suggested. In fact, the FDA never revoked its approval. Now that Allendale owns the equipment and rights, the company hopes to make the sponge widely available once again.

"I've been astounded by the reception," says Gene Detroyer, Allendale's chief executive officer, concerning women's reactions to the possible reintroduction. He's received an outpouring of e-mail messages from women who can't wait to get their hands on the sponges. "I knew it was going to be well-received because of focus groups we did, but this has surpassed my greatest expectations," he observes.

Why So Popular?

The sponge provides women with another choice in birth control. "When it comes to sexual health, options are a good thing," says Sandor Gardos, Ph.D., a San Francisco-based sexologist.

Options, particularly over-the-counter ones, are few. Aside from spermicides and the female condom, the sponge is the only nonprescription alternative for women.

The sponge, unlike the pill, the most popular prescription method, it has few side effects and can be used at a moment's notice. However, it needs to be moistened with water before it is used. Measuring 1.75 inches in diameter and.50 inches in thickness, the sponge is coated with sperm-killing nonoxynol-9 and has a dimple in the middle that fits over the cervix. A ribbon-like loop aids in removing the device -- this might be trying to some users.

According to Dr. David Archer, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, the sponge's effectiveness is due primarily to the nonoxynol-9. While some believe that the device also functions as a barrier, keeping the sperm from entering the cervix, Archer says studies to support that assumption have not been performed.

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