A Star Returns: Elaine Benes' Favorite Form of Birth Control Makes a Comeback
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
Birth control is a way for men and women to prevent pregnancy. There are many different methods of birth control; some types also help protect against sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. Condoms are one type of birth control that -- in addition to preventing pregnancy -- also helps prevent the spread of STDs.
There are two types of condoms, the male condom and the female condom.
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
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.