Guest blog by: Marc-André LeBlanc, co-founder of International Rectal Microbicide Advocates (IRMA) and coordinator of their global Lubricant Safety Working Group.
Women, men and transgender people around the world often use some form of lubricant (lube) during vaginal or anal sex. We have long promoted the use of male or female condoms with condom-compatible water-based or silicone-based lubes to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Lubricants help ensure that condoms don’t break, and that condoms stay on during sex.
But what do we know about how safe these products are? Do they affect the risk of acquiring HIV or other STIs? As shocking as it may seem, we don’t have clear answers to these critically important questions.
There are hundreds of different sexual lubricants available on the market. However, only a few of them have been tested in a handful of independent studies that looked for tissue damage and that tried to assess their potential impact on HIV and STI risk. Lubes have been tested a few times in laboratory settings and in animals (twice on slugs, twice in mice, once in monkeys). One study explored the link between lube use and rectal STIs. But so far, they have only been tested in humans once.
Because there has been so little research, and because it’s difficult to know how the results from these studies translate into any potential real-life risk, it is currently nearly impossible to make recommendations for or against specific types or brands of lubricants.
This situation is unacceptable. We’re in 2014. How can we not know the answer to such a fundamental question—are lubes safe?
We need a lube safety research agenda that provides a roadmap towards answering that question. We need more studies and more research funding. We need everyone to get involved: manufacturers, researchers, funders, regulators, and of course advocates. We need sustained advocacy to ensure that lube safety remains on the HIV prevention research agenda.
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