Betty Greene Salwak

Some Lubricants May Increase Risk for HIV Infection

Filed By Betty Greene Salwak | May 29, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: anal sex, Astroglide, HIV/AIDS, IRMA, KY Jelly, lubricants, PRE, safe sex

Two preliminary studies presented this past weekend indicate there may be an increased risk for HIV infection from using certain lubricants during unprotected anal sex. This risk applies to the receptive partner equally among men and women.

The first study indicates that there is a possibility that general use of some lubricants may increase risk for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. No specific lubricants were identified as more likely to cause the effect.

In the second study, the presence of certain dissolved salts and sugars are suggested in tests to have a toxic effect on cells and rectal tissue. In the toxicology test, the brands PRE and Wet Platinum were found to be safest and Astroglide and KY Jelly appeared to be "the most problematic."

These tests are not conclusive but they are long overdue. The goal of the research team (which includes collaborators from International Rectal Microbicide Advocates) is "to provide consumer guidance regarding lubes that are found to be safer than others," according to IRMA advocate Marc-Andre LeBlanc.

The two studies were presented in Pittsburgh at the International Microbicides Conference.

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Have the studies been published anywhere yet? Are they going to be published? And can we get an update when they are released, I'd really like to read them.

Vene, overviews of those studies are a part of IRMA's latest publication, "From Product to Promise - Advancing Rectal Microbicide Research and Advocacy." You can find their conclusions on part 2.11 on page 34 of Section 2 in the report. I don't know if the studies are available online.

When I saw this story I was like "What? they hadn't already researched that? Where have they been for the last three decades?"

Can it really be said that a particular lubricant is safest for unprotected anal sex that is itself dangerous? Isn't "safest" the wrong adjective?

Wait, why are we talking about unprotected sex? The lubes selected are compatible with condoms. I don't think that this is intended to be a replacement, but rather to try to ensure that lubricants don't increase the chance for disease.

Wilson46201 | May 30, 2010 7:33 PM

I agree with Dr. Jillian -- this is like arguing whether a night of boozing Budweiser or Miller is safer for driving home without a DUI.

A. J. Lopp | May 31, 2010 11:14 PM

I agree 100% with Wilson et al --- which suicide is worse, a handgun in the roof of the mouth or an overdose of sleeping pills?

A. J. Lopp | May 31, 2010 11:23 PM

Perhaps my metaphor wasn't the best ... but my point here is that we are sending mixed messages, on a subject where too many in the audience want to avoid the clarity of the message.

These studies aren't stopping here. They are looking for the best vehicle for delivering a rectal microbicide, and a lubricant may be that vehicle. IRMA's goal is to find a rectal microbicide that is safe and effective for all.

IRMA states "[the RM] must also be acceptable, readily available and easy to use for all people who engage in AI [anal intercourse]. Unprotected AI is a significant driver of new HIV infections among gay men and other MSM, and likely plays a large role in the epidemic among heterosexuals. Partners of all genders need and deserve prevention methods beyond condoms. We need choices."

In the meantime, if a certain lubricant is safer than another to use with or without a condom, it behooves us to learn about it.

I agree with Betty. Besides researching the best vehicles for RM, the driving force behind publicizing the safest lubricant to use for sex with and without a condom is likely a harm reduction philosophy, in which researchers and advocates recognize that people are likely to engage in risky behaviors sometimes regardless of the knowledge they have that certain behaviors (like engaging in anal intercourse without a condom) generally put you at greater risk for HIV infection, etc. If there are people who are going to engage in AI without a condom, they should know what lubricants are most likely to do their job -- i.e., reduce the incidence of tearing.

As a gay man, though, I will say it is eternally frustrating trying to navigate safer sex when the very products intended to improve safety are possibly degrading it.