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New research calls lube safety into question

Posted Feb 18 2011 3:17pm

The website has published an excellent article called “Lube Alert,” which summarizes a forthcoming paper in the journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses:

The new report by Population Council researchers is the most recent of several studies raising questions about the safety of different lubes — in particular, whether their use reduces, raises, or has a neutral effect on the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Quoting directly from the aidsmeds article:

“According to laboratory studies the group conducted…a large number of popular lubes may actually make it easier for HIV to get past the body’s defenses, notably during anal sex without a condom. Even more alarming is the finding that four lubes in particular cause HIV to reproduce up to four times faster than it does in the absence of such products. The researchers caution that the test tube study results are extremely preliminary and merely suggest a potential problem with several personal lubricants.”

There is relatively little safety data on lubes, in part, because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies lubes as cosmetics. As such, lubes are not subject to the same safety testing that is required for medical devices. In the aidsmeds article, one of the study’s authors notes that, while FDA requires that lubes be tested for vaginal irritation, “They might consider adding a similar requirement to assess product safety for rectal use.”

What we do know is that lubrication, in general, can help reduce friction during vaginal and anal sex, which in turn reduces the possibility of tissue damage. Because of this, lubrication is a good thing, and something we want to continue encouraging people to do. What we can’t say at this moment is exactly which commercial lubricants are the safest to use in terms of their effects on tissue irritation, etc.

The study discussed in the aidsmeds article points out that four types of lube contained the ingredient believed to increase HIV reproduction in laboratory tests: Astroglide Liquid, Astroglide Warming Liguid, Astroglide Glycerin & Paraben Free Liquid, and Astroglide Silken Secret. Other studies have indicated safety issues with additional lubricants ( learn more ).

While we don’t want to alarm people, we do want to make sure that our readers are aware that lube safety, especially for anal sex, is a topic under great scrutiny right now, and that it’s important to stay informed about developments in this research.

If you’re interested in learning more about lube safety now, you can check out the following fact sheets and articles below. You can also call our free, confidential hotlines at 800-235-2331 or our HIV Health Library at 866-799-0079.

“Safety of lubricants for rectal use: Questions & Answers for HIV educators and advocates.” A detailed 7-page fact sheet dated October 2010 from International Rectal Microbicide Advocates.

“Are lubricants safe?” Fact sheet dated July 1, 2010 from

“Rectal lubricants may enhance the risk of STIs.” Article dated May 26, 2010 from

“A slippery slope?” Article from the Oct/Nov 2010 issue of Poz.

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