Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Peter, I need some info on the safety of lubes, lubricated condoms, and SKYN!

[Peter Pointers is here 4 YOU, as a service to LifeLube readers - whatever question you may have regarding sexual health, physical health, mental/emotional and spiritual health - ask him. He will find the answers you are looking 4. helped by a team of experts. Below is a recent Q&A you may be interested to read.]

 Question:  I have recently read that a study indicates that the most common lubes can cause anal tissue damage, and that the brands that do not cause such damage are PRe and Platinum Wet.  So, I am switching to these.  However, most condoms come pre-lubed, and there is no information on what they are lubed with. Do you recommend using non-lubed only, and using the safest lubes, or is there so little lube on the lubed condoms for it to be inconsequential?

Also, when I went to get the new (and much more expensive) lube, a clerk steered me to a new type of condom, SKYN by Lifestyle.  On their web page they discuss polyisoprene and polyurethane condoms as alternatives to latex. I have gotten myself through the AIDS epidemic without infection thanks to latex, but the clerk says these new non-latex condoms feel better, and I'd like to go with them, but is there research about how they hold up in anal intercourse?  What do you think are the best condoms for safety?

Answer: Thank you for your question.  I'm happy that you have been so successful with condom use throughout the last few decades.  Keep that up - because despite anything we talk about here, that is still your best security against HIV and other infections.

Regarding the recent studies looking at lubricants and anal tissue, the jury is still out. It sounds like you have a good grasp of what the studies found, but there is a lot of information that remains missing.  In fact, Beau Gratzer, the Director of HIV/STD prevention at Howard Brown Health Center states, "we do not have enough info/data to make definitive statements one way or the other about the safety of specific lubes" based on the two recent studies.

And Jim Pickett, Director of Advocacy at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and chair of IRMA -  International Rectal Microbicide Advocates, agrees, "We are not sure if the lab findings translate into the real world. And the epidemiological study (which showed a correlation between lube use and rectal sexually transmitted infections among respondents in LA and Baltimore, whether condoms were used or not) did not have enough info on the lubes used to make any conclusions."

There certainly needs to be more investigating!

So what do we know?

-One of the most important messages from both of the above professionals is that, regardless of what lube you use, your history of successfully using condoms has been the most critical protective factor for you.  Using condoms with lube is still the gold
standard for protecting oneself because lube prevents condom breakage.

-The finding of the studies, while incomplete, are most important to situations where condoms are used inconsistently, incorrectly, or not at all.

-Definitely, it is important to avoid any lubricants containing Nonoxyl-9 (N-9), which years ago, was found to be damaging to anal linings.  Some condom companies (Trojan and Lifestyles) do still have N-9 in their condoms.  So, avoid any condoms containing N-9 or other spermicides. Spermicides do not kill HIV or other STDs.

There are many reasons why the research into lubricants is difficult. I have a rather lengthy statement from IRMA, a group that does a lot of advocacy around anal lubricants.  I would be happy to share it if you want more information.

Now, regarding condoms that are pre-lubed, I am unable to find much information on the specific lubes that they use.  Their product websites may give a little more info, but they do not tell what the specific chemical make-up is or what the specific brand they use is.

About the second part of that question:

The SKYN condom is a -plastic- condom, so it is a little different that latex. Polyurethane and polysoprene condoms were originally developed for people that suffer from a latex allergy.  All three of these condoms are effective at preventing HIV/STDs and are approved by the FDA.  Polysoprene is a little stretchier than the polyurethane condoms that were the earlier alternative to latex.  Non-latex condoms also conduct heat better than latex, so some people prefer them.  Feel free to try out the SKYN condom if you'd like.  Just like with latex condoms, using lube will reduce the chances that it will break.  There is lots of information out there about the differences in these condoms, so feel free to read more here [sorry for the pregnancy/heterosexist viewpoint] and here.

Be Well,
Peter Pointers on LifeLube, Friend Peter on Facebook

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  1. Do polysoprene and polyurethane condoms share the same lube restrictions as latex condoms (water vs oil based)?

  2. Great question, Pedro. To be honest, the same restrictions do not apply to polysoprene and polyurethane condoms. Both are safe to use with oil-based condoms. However, to keep it safe, it may be easier to keep only water-based and silicone-based lube (both are safe with latex AND poly- condoms) on hand. This way, you never accidentally switch it up and use oil-based lube with latex condoms.

    As an aside, spit does not make the best lubricant, either. It can dry up condoms as the saliva evaporates, which may increase the risk of condom breakage.

    Here is a great resource from Britain on condoms and lube:

  3. Thank you for tackling this critically important subject, Peter, but I'm still confused and frustrated. We need still more information!

    First, I'm not sure what you mean by "oil-based condoms." Perhaps you meant "oil compatible condoms." Trying to figure out which condoms are oil compatible can be pretty confusing. Further, the fact that we have two products made of different materials sharing the same name and the fact that "legacy" (discontinued) condoms are still around and for sale make things more confusing still.

    Here's where I'm coming from:
    1. The original so-called female condom (known as "Reality" in the U.S.) is made of polyurethane and packaged with an enclosed oil-based lube.
    2. The original Durex Avanti condom was made of polyurethane and is oil-based lube compatible, I assume.
    3. Trojan now promotes its nonoxynol-9 free (hallelujah!) polyurethane Supra condom as oil-based lube compatible.
    4. The next generation FC2 (which replaced the previous so-called female condom) is made of synthetic nitrile, but I found at least one major online retailer listing it as made of polyurethane. The official FC2 website says that it IS oil-based lube compatible.


    5. The newer polyisoprene condoms (Avanti Bare & Skyn) are apparently NOT oil-based lube compatible according to warnings on several retail websites.

    All of these and other brands unknown to me are likely to be around and in stock in various locales for some time. For example, Condom Country (including via Amazon) is bragging
    that "We managed to track down what we believe are the last polyurethane Durex Avanti in the United States, possibly in the entire world! Please note that stocks of this product are
    EXTREMELY limited and carry an expiration date of April 2011."

    The manufacturers aren't doing a very good job of making this clear (I was unable to find any iniformation about either version of Avanti on the U.S. Durex website, and the Lifestyles
    fact sheet comparing polyurethane to polyisoprene fails to mention lube compatibility.)

    I recall hearing in the 70s (in the pre-HIV/AIDS era) that water-based lube was preferred over oil-based lube because of studies that associated the latter with rectal polyps. But I have no idea how strong that data was or how relevant it is today.

    I can understand the general advice to keep water-based lube on hand just in case. In my own past mass outreach efforts (when there was no way to keep things clear or have conversations) I discarded the oil-based lube pillows that came with Reality. But I think we owe our readers, some of whom are power-users, more complete guidance. There are times when using oil-based lube and compatible condoms works brilliantly for me . . . for instance in shower and other H2O immersion scenes or post-massage scenes where oil-based lube is already all over everything.

    Please, Peter, please: I'm a grassroots activist but no scientist . . .can you follow up with the definitive lowdown?

  4. I would like to apologize and follow-up to my previous comment regarding the use of polyisoprene condoms with oil-based lubricants.

    First, there was a type-o where "oil-based condoms" should read "oil-based lubricants."

    Also, after further research and contacting the manufacturers of these products, we have learned that one should NOT use oil-based lubricants (such as mineral oil, creams or petroleum jelly) with polyisoprene condoms (such as the Durex Avanti Bare and Lifestyles Skyn).

    In regards to the use of oil-based lubricants: if one insists on using these types of lubes, simply chose your condom carefully. The above comments are correct, as best as we can tell, polyurethane condoms (FC, FC2, Trojan Supra, Durex Avanti, etc) are the only condoms safe to use with oil-based lubricants.

    Furthermore, the use of silicone-based lubricants (like Eros, Wet Platinum, ID Millenium, etc.) is compatible with all types of condoms: latex, polyisoprene, and polyurethane.

    I hope this clarifies some of the confusion from my first post and helps you in determining which condom/lube combo is right for you!


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