Are lubricants a risk factor among men and women who engage in receptive anal intercourse? Two new studies presented last week at the International Microbicides Conference suggest the answer is yes. Past research indicates that receptive anal intercourse is practiced by up to 90 percent of gay men and between 10 and 35 percent of heterosexual women.
In the first study, involving men and women in Baltimore and Los Angeles, the researchers found that those who used lubricants were three times more likely to have rectal STIs.
The study showed that even after controlling for gender, HIV status, city, condom use, and number of sex partners, the association between lubricant use before receptive rectal intercourse and rectal STIs remained strong, said study leader Pamina Gorbach, from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Although the analysis didn't consider the specific lubricants being used, it may be that certain types of products are more irritating to the lining of the rectum than others, which could increase men and women's vulnerability to rectal STIs, Gorbach suggests.
In the second study, testing of popular over-the-counter lubricants revealed that many of these products were toxic to cells and tissue in the rectum. The researchers speculate that these cells might be rendered more vulnerable targets for HIV infection.
The researchers found that many of the lubricants tested contained higher amounts of dissolved salts and sugars compared to what's normally found in a cell. As a result, the products had toxic effects on the cells and rectal tissue. Some of the lubricants caused significant portions of the epithelium - the layer of cells that serves as a protective barrier inside the rectum - to be stripped away.
Leader of the second study, Charlene Dezzutti, from the University of Pittsburgh, said that six lubes were tested: Astroglide, Elbow Grease, ID Glide, KY Jelly, Wet Platinum and PRÉ. Most of the lubricants studied were water-based, except for Wet Platinum, which is a condom-compatible silicone-based product.
On the tests performed, PRÉ and Wet Platinum were shown to be safest, while Astroglide was the most toxic to cells and tissues, and KY Jelly had the worst effect on "good" bacteria. PRÉ was the only water-based lubricant that did not disrupt the epithelium.
Dezzutti said that in future studies, the researchers hope to determine the effect that different lubricants have on susceptibility to HIV infection in tissues.
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Source: International Microbicides Conference