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ISSUE 118 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/6/2005

Sponge comes back

By Megan Sutherland
Staff Writer

Friday, May 6, 2005

The sponge is back! No, not the dish cleaning kind, and certainly not a squarepants-wearing cartoon sponge named Bob. The sponge of which I speak is the spermicidal contraceptive that allows us heathens mortal to undermine God. Let the orgies commence!

Well, maybe not orgies (the sponge does not provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases like herpes and HIV). However, the popular form of birth control is returning to the U.S. contraceptive market after a 10-year hiatus. The sponge was taken off the market because the plant which manufactured them failed an inspection. Rather than upgrade their equipment, the factory chose to shut down (thus, no more sponge).

But now that the sponge is coming back, many wonder how it works and why it’s such a popular form of contraception.

The contraceptive sponge is somewhat like a diaphragm or cervical cap in that it is inserted into the vagina and placed over the cervix, blocking the entryway into the uterus from sperm. The sponge is made of polyurethane, making it one-size-fits-all, as opposed to diaphragms and cervical caps, which must be custom fit by a gynecologist.

It has to be inserted a few hours prior to sex, and can remain in the vagina for up to 24 hours (leaving it in longer may cause Toxic Shock Syndrome). If used correctly, the sponge is between 89 and 91 percent effective.

One advantage of the contraceptive sponge is that it is not a hormonal treatment like the oral contraceptive birth control pill.

Many women, myself included, have experienced unpleasant hormonal side effects like mood changes, nausea and weight gain as a result of going on the pill. Furthermore, unlike the pill, the sponge is over-the-counter and requires no doctor‘s visits or prescriptions.

For young adults who cannot or do not want to disclose information about their contraceptive needs to their parents, having more over-the-counter options available is a definite plus. It adds to the diversity of methods available, allowing individuals to try different methods and see which they like best.

Personally, I think the more methods of birth control available, the better. Outside of the entertainment industry, the United States appears to be reverting back to Puritan attitudes towards sex. It’s not to be mentioned unless it’s being denounced as “dirty.”

Even in the context of marriage, sex is not something people want to openly acknowledge. Other countries laugh at this squeamishness, especially considering the statistical proof that Americans aren’t quite so coy once inside the bedroom.

The United States has the highest rate of teen mothers of any other developed nation (twice that of England and eight times that of The Netherlands). Teenage mothers cost the American government billions of dollars each year, with 80 percent of teen mothers on welfare at some point.

The Bush administration would hope that this Puritan shunning of sex will continue to be instilled in younger generations. That’s pretty much what I was taught in school; we saw a slide show of infected genitalia and sobbing teenage girls whose boyfriends had left them the second they found out about their girlfriends’ pregnancy. The reality is that those who don’t share the same values might need some instruction on the most reliable methods of birth control.

And as it is, even those who do pledge that they will abstain might also need some information on the most reliable forms of protection. Recent studies have shown those who pledge to abstain from sex have roughly the same rate of contracting STDs as those who do not “sign the pledge.” Apparently, the promises of 13 year-olds aren’t the most trustworthy.

In the age of fundamentalist pharmacists refusing to fill birth control prescriptions and the Bush administration’s love affair (a chaste one, mind you) with abstinence-only sex education, it’s important that those who choose to be sexually active have multiple options available to them.

The return of the sponge is assuredly a step in that direction and a positive addition to the birth control market.

Staff writer Megan Sutherland is a junior from The Woodlands, Texas. She majors in English and history.

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