Spermicides are contraceptive tablets or suppositories that are placed in the vagina prior to intercourse. These substances are activated by vaginal secretions and kill sperm to prevent pregnancy.
Used alone, spermicides are not an effective birth control method – the reason why they are usually combined with other barrier methods of contraception such as diaphragms, condoms, cervical caps and sponges.
“There is always the danger that the tablet will not dissolve completely and that contraception protection will thus be incomplete. This method is less preferred than others where the barrier to sperm attempting to enter the cervix is more certain. Purchasers should also make sure they are buying contraceptive tablets, not feminine hygiene suppositories, which are often displayed nearby,” said Dr. Raphael Jewelewicz in “The Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons Complete Home Medical Guide.”
The vaginal sponge is a disposable pillow-shaped device which looks like a tampon. It is packed with spermicide and absorbs seminal fluid when inserted in the vagina.
The earliest reference to sponges as a means of birth control was made in the Ebers Papyrus in 1500 B.C. This primitive sponge was made of lint and contained acacia and honey. So popular was this contraceptive that it was used for years. Modern sponges are made of a different material but work the same way. Aside from blocking and/or absorbing semen, they also kill sperm.
“The device works continuously releasing spermicide for up to 72 hours. Additional applications of spermicides are not necessary, even for multiple acts of intercourse. There are other advantages as well: the sponge is available without a prescription; unlike a diaphragm, the sponge does not have to be fitted; and the sponge can be inserted ahead of time, which allows greater spontaneity in sex. The sponge has been found to be 85 percent effective,” according to the editors of Consumer Guide’s “Family Health & Medical Guide.”
Since the sponge comes in a size that fits all women, there is no need for professional fitting at a physician’s office. Furthermore, a study of 4,162 women published in the American Journal of Public Health said sponges (and diaphragms) appear to offer more protection against two sexually transmitted diseases – gonorrhoea and trichomoniasis.
Dr. Michael Rosenberg, professor of epidemiology and obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of North Carolina, said the incidence of gonorrhoea and trichomoniasis was 71 percent and 74 percent lower respectively in women who used these barrier methods compared to those who didn’t use a contraceptive at all.
Rosenberg believes the sponge and diaphragm may be more effective in preventing sexually transmitted diseases than condoms. What’s more, one can have worry-free sex for the next 24 hours after using the sponge.
What about side effects? Like the diaphragm and spermicide, some women may experience an allergic reaction or irritation. Other complaints are difficulty in removing the sponge and a bad vaginal odor if the device is left for more than 18 hours. Most of these problems, however, are minor.
“Cases of local irritation or allergic reaction have been reported; however, these have been mild and infrequent. There is also concern that the sponge could become a breeding ground for infection, especially if used improperly. You should consult your doctor about the contraceptive sponge and its proper use before trying this method of birth control,” said the editors of Consumer Guide’s “Family Health & Medical Guide.” (Next: A close look at condoms.)
To enjoy sex in your later years, keep fit, eat right and love life. That simple advice can go a long way in preserving your sex life.