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andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

What the heck is going on with the Today contraceptive sponge? My wife and I have always used condoms, but when we saw the sponges a few months back, we figured, "Let's try 'em."

Oh ... my ... god. Going bareback after years of condom use was absotively amazing for both of us. We also discovered that what my wife calls her "special trick" — which involves sliding the condomless head of my cock over her clit — worked OK for her with a condom on, but she describes it as "exquisite" without one.

So now, Synova, the company that was making the sponge, has declared bankruptcy, and sponges are going for $8 a pop on eBay. Do you know if Synova is going to come out of its reorganization and start making the sponge again?

Love,

Spongelover

Dear Lover:

I hate to be the one to break your heart, or rather to rebreak it after Synova — cads that they are — already treated you and yours so callously, but you will survive. Your heart will go on.

There's something about the sponge (beyond the spermicide itself) that just makes people go all gooey. This is the second time sponge fans have loved and lost, and I'm afraid I do not know when, if ever, your beloved will return. Back in the '90s, Seinfeld's Elaine coined the term "sponge-worthy" when she discovered the first shortage and had to start gauging whether or not a boyfriend rated a precious, hoarded sponge. That model was pulled from the market for safety and manufacturing problems, and didn't come back until last year, along with a media blitz that attracted hordes of new fans. And yes, Synova, the new owner, has declared bankruptcy. The manufacturing rights have passed to yet another company, but I don't think it's saying when — or if — it will begin exercising them.

So what's the big deal? The sponge is nothing but a ... sponge, filled to the brim with Nonoxynol-9, the soapy, controversial spermicide that has been around forever. The big advantages are ease of application (pop it in) and forgetability (you don't have to pop in another one for a day or so). Nonoxynol-9, though, can be some nasty stuff. A number of studies have demonstrated that it causes enough irritation to let in pathogens, including HIV, and it tastes horrible. Plus, I will forever bear a grudge against it since it caused a boyfriend to develop a huge bright red clown-mouth — a scarlet letter "O" — around his lips, just in time for Passover at my mother's house, and people kept asking him about it all night until he was ready to die. So, um, none for me. But I do understand your dismay at the loss of a dear contraceptive.

There are other forms of spermicide — film or pellets or whatever — but they don't work well without a diaphragm-y thing to hold them in place. In fact, even with such a device, they work just as poorly as the beloved sponge, which is very poorly indeed in women who have had children and only sort of OK in women who haven't. The sponge was never a great form of birth control; it just allowed for great sex. Is your wife absolutely sure she wouldn't like a nice NuvaRing or an IUD? I know, it's not fair — I'd like to be able to recommend some sort of device to insert — but they've got to be better than condoms and eternal sorrow.

Love,

Andrea

Dear Andrea:

I'm on the pill and monogamous, so I'm not limited to water-based lubricants. Recently my partner and I got the idea to try vitamin E oil — it smells and tastes pretty good, it lasts longer than Astroglide, and if it's edible, we figured, it must be safe. Well ...

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