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The Return of the Sponge: Women Are Still Waiting


As to the safety of sponges and N-9, Dell says many forms of irritation can increase a woman's risk of contracting HIV. "Any product could irritate the vagina, including the male penis," she says. "This is due to the [skin abrasion] associated with intercourse. This also makes a women eight times more likely to get HIV from an infected man then for a man to get it from a woman."

She doesn't believe that the sponge is dangerous, because it uses the same active ingredient as other barrier methods and foams and gels -- N-9. "I don't think [the sponge] would be approved by the FDA if there was a significant danger," Dell says.

As to the efficacy of contraceptive methods, Dell says, "The problem with barrier methods is for those people who are passionate and in a hurry." The sponge is less effective than other contraceptives, such as hormonal implants or injections, birth control pills, and the IUD, but promises more convenience and lower cost. According to the FDA, use of the sponge brought the same one-year pregnancy rate as a diaphragm, cervical cap, or female condom. The sponge was more effective than spermicide alone, but less effective than the male condom.

One former sponge user, Audrey Godshall of North Carolina, never found another birth-control device she liked as well as the sponge. Godshall, now 42, turned to the device after doctors told her she could no longer use the pill because she had had a mild stroke.

She tried a diaphragm and didn't like it. Then she found the sponge. "It was very freeing," she tells WebMD. "With the diaphragm I could always feel it, and it was messy. The mess, and I use that advisedly, with the sponge was minimal; it wasn't really messy. I could never feel the sponge although sometimes my partner said he could."

When the sponge went off the market, Godshall could not find another contraceptive that fit her needs. Eventually she had her tubes tied.

So Godshall is no longer in the market for a revived Today Sponge. But if all goes as Allendale Pharmaceuticals hopes, a whole new generation of women will soon get a chance to try the contraceptive she and many other women found so convenient -- and, maybe, to judge their dates by whether they are "sponge-worthy"



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