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Lubricants may increase disease risk of anal sex, studies show

May 25, 2010 |  5:00 pm

The use of lubricants may make anal sex more comfortable, but they may also increase the risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, researchers said Tuesday. Many experts have been concerned about the potential effects of such lubricants, but there have previously been virtually no studies about how they affect disease.

In the United States, as many as 90% of gay men practice anal sex, according to International Rectal Microbicides Advocates, a group that has been lobbying for the development of microbicides — chemical agents that can kill HIV during sexual acts. Estimates in the U.S. also suggest that as many as 35% of women have participated in anal sex at least once. The majority of both sexes are thought to use lubricants to ease penetration.

Epidemiologist Pamina H. Gorbach of UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine and her colleagues studied 879 men and women between October 2006 and December 2008. The participants were tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia and queried about their sexual behavior in private, computer-based interviews, which have been shown to elicit more truthful answers than face-to-face interviews. Of the 879 participants, 229 men and 192 women reported having receptive anal intercourse in the past year, and about half said they used lubricants. When the team analyzed the data, Gorbach told a Pittsburgh microbicides meeting, they found that those who used lubricants were three times as likely to have contracted a rectal infection.

A partial explanation for the increased risk may have been provided by Charlene Dezzutti, a reproductive science specialist at the University of Pittsburgh, and her colleagues. They studied the effects of six of the most popular lubricants on rectal cells and tissues in laboratory dishes.They found that many of the products had high concentrations of dissolved salts and sugars that draw water out of cells, weakening and even killing the cells. Some of them even stripped away significant portions of the surface epithelial cells on the rectal tissue, the layer of cells that serves as a protective barrier. They also studied the effect of the lubricants on beneficial bacteria in the rectum.

Two of the six lubricants, PRE and Wet Platinum, were shown to be safest for the cells, while Astroglide was the most toxic to cells and tissue. KY Jelly had the worst effect on rectal bacteria, essentially wiping out the entire colony. ID Glide and Elbow Grease had intermediate effects, the team found. None of the lubricants was found to have measurable anti-HIV activity.

The team now plans to investigate the effect of the lubricants on HIV infections.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

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Comments (11)

Were these people using condoms? That seems to be a rather important detail that this article left out completely.

Thats the kind of news one needs to read first thing in the morning. if it is "news" at all.

What a poorly written piece of scare tactics! Mr. Maugh and the LA Times should be ashamed for such poor writing - have they no idea of how to review a piece of scientific research? Furthermore, there is inadequate information given to access the original research information in order to evaluate the findings for myself.

Clearly the quality of ingredients in lubricants make a big difference; trained sexuality educators have known this for a long time. There are also significant risks associated with not using lubricants. And, as other commenters have noted, we have no information about other potentially important variables like condom use or frequency of anal intercourse. Instead, HIV is mentioned at the opening to grab our attention, yet none of the research teams mentioned have even applied their studies to HIV risk yet.

Mr. Maugh, are you seriously suggesting that we go without anal lubricant with this one sided article and assume the risks that go with such a decision? Your unethical writing is inexcusable and I have encouraged my readers to recognize it as such at my blog.

There's a LOT of information missing from this article regarding these 'studies'... come on, be a proper, responsible, ethical journalist, please.

The size of the sample group is far too small to give any acurate results.

Substances such as Nonoxyl-9 have been shown to highly damaging to delicate internal tissues.

There is no way I'd want a biocide (essentially a diluted poison) of of any form added to lube.

The effect of common lubes on natural internal fauna is worth noting. The ideal would be nill impact on natural bacteria, that does not tend to act as a medium for the growth and transferal of bacteria.

And as stated - Use Condoms

One explanation could be that those who use lubricants engage in the activity more often (since it's more comfortable that way), hence increasing their chances of contracting something. In other words, nothing in this article suggests that the study controlled for frequency of the activity. Yet another bit of salient information omitted from this piece. Also, no discussion in the article of what risks lubricant can alleviate.

Did lubricants increase the risk of vaginal infection with gonorrhea and chlamydia?

It's interesting to note here that when my Doctor does a rectal exam he uses KY and has used it for as long as i can remember. If its ok to use by a doctor for a rectal exam and he has no concerns about uisng it....then something is amiss with this report...

As a few others stated, there is no mention of condoms in the study. And were (the women at least) having vaginal sex as well during the time of the study? How do they know infections weren't shared that way instead? Also agree that the test group was awfully small.

I always use Boy Butter Lubricants.

Since the lack of lubrication is often painful, I would surmise that those who used lube probably had anal sex more often, thus increasing the likelihood for acquiring infection(2). And, does rectal bacteria, beneficial or otherwise, really affect transmission of STD/HIV? This all sounds hokey!


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