May 282010
Wet Platinum for Easy Pumping

Wet Platinum for Easy Pumping

Hey LA Times, quit trying scare people off using anal lube with your unethical writing!  You should know better!

This past week the LA Times came out with this frightening, unfounded and rediculously sex-negative announcement, written by Thomas H. Maugh II:

Lubricants may increase disease risk of anal sex, studies show

I wonder how many people read to the bottom of the article to note that it depends on the quality of the lube you’re using.  Furthermore, the beginning of the article notes that using lube during anal penetration (for men and women) may increase HIV, however it clearly states later in the article that the researchers were only testing for gonorrhea and chlamydia.  A different team would be checking into the HIV question in a later study.  That’s right, they are discussing two different studies and not giving full reference information for either, making it very difficult to double check the original studies for ourselves.  Argh!

Ok, so lets dive in a bit more and see what is going on here, according to the LA Times:

– A group of researchers (Pamina H. Gorbach and colleagues) at UCLA tested men and women for gonorrhea and chlamydia and also asked them about their anal sex habits, including what whether they use lubes and what kinds.  They found that about half use lubes, and those who used lubes were about “3x more likely to have contracted a rectal infection.”  Because this data does not appear to have been published, and is cited only as being from “a Pittsburgh microbicides meeting” I have no way to see if the rectal infections in general are limited to the 2 STIs they tested for or not.  I also have no opportunity to look for other possibilities.  For instance, I would like to know if they controlled for the frequency of anal intercourse or for condom use.  In other words, did they take into account the possibility that people who use lube might also be having far more anal intercourse? Did they ask about condoms and, if so, what was the impact there? There is no way to find out from this article.  Shoddy reporting!

– Then, the article brought in a second study.  In this study Charlene Dezzutti and her colleagues at U of Pittsburg reported that they tested 6 popular lubes on rectal cells.  They discovered 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.”  In other words, crappy lubricants are bad for you.  We knew this already, although this does provide back-up information with helpful details.  PRE and Wet Platinum (a silicone based lube) were the safest while Astroglide was the most toxic in their study.  KY was bad for rectal bacteria (much of which can be healthy to have there) and ID Glide and Elbow Grease faired in the middle.  There was no info given on which types of Astroglide, KY, or Elbow Grease were used… we don’t even know if they were water or oil based!  And I can’t readily find out either, because the author neglected to give a date or media information for how this data was announced or published.  Seriously crappy reporting!

What can we learn from this?

– First of all, please be a savvy consumer of research.  If you could not look up the study for yourself based on the news article then something sneaky is afoot.  You need to be able to evaluate the original source for yourself; that’s what quality dissemination of scientific research is based upon!

– Secondly, be nice to your anus!  Use a high quality lubricant that is glycerine free.  What about the first study?  There simply isn’t enough information in the LA Times article to even begin to know whether we should listen and, if so, what it means.  We certainly know that skipping the lube increases the risk of risk of friction damage to your delicate anal tissues, and it can make things feel very, very unenjoyable.  Friction damage to tissue increases the risk of infection plus friction can also weaken condoms.  It would be a huge mistake to suggest that we should go without any lubricant at all for anal penetration!  Pick out a high quality product and proceed with protected, lubricated pleasure.

So, LA Times and Thomas H. Maugh II, you’ve been caught red handed with a piece of highly irresponsible journalism.  What is your response?


I encourage you to comment on the original article at the LA Times website and to contact them about their poor writing.  We certainly don’t need this kind of sex-negative, unethical, and incorrect crap coming out of our newspapers!

Comments are moderated, so who knows if mine will show up.  Here is my official comment below, for anyone who is interested:

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.

  6 Responses to “HIV, Lube Quality, and Anal Sex: Scare Tactics at the LA Times”

  1. There are two other things I’d like to point out. The first study relied on both the memories (notoriously unreliable) of people and asked them to honestly report on their anal sex practices. It is quite likely that they were either not honest or not completely honest with their responses. Further, it says that those who used lubes were more likely to get an anal infection, but that does not mean that anal sex had anything to do with it. It’s possible that the use of lube encouraged transference of the disease from vaginal to rectal orifices. All in all both horrible writing and possibly horribly research.

    Secondly, although the experimentation in the second test revealed problems in vitro, there is no indication that the experimenters carried this research over to clinical testing. As such, while interesting, it may be meaningless in a real world setting.

  2. Excellent points! Thank you for bringing them up.

  3. Newspapers that are considered to be widely respected and read my countless people of all ages and educational backgrounds really need to start reporting in a way where a teen will read an article like this and immediately think that because the LA Times wrote that lube causes HIV when used for anal sex then they just won’t use it and think they are now not at risk for infections, STIs, etc. This is really ridiculous and you’re right, completely sex-negative and unethical.

  4. Thank you for researching this better and calling out the LA Times for their shoddy reporting. I have been researching the ingredients in lubes for the past year, and some lubes do contain ingredients that are definitely not good for the body. Whether any of the findings in these reports are accurate is hard to determine given the little evidence offered. There is a huge difference in the chemical composition between water based organic lubes and silicone lubes. And, there is a big difference between body-friendly and potentially toxic lube ingredients as well. Sugars or glycerin obviously should not go near the genitals, and it seems that one study is pointing to sugars as being harmful (which you mentioned is very well know in the sex ed community). Parabens have been linked to cancer (although they are still in our shampoo and toothpaste as well). Whether or not any of them increase the risk of STDs is not definitive based on the LA Times article, but I would like to be able to follow-up on the initial studies.

  5. Now that is a HUGE question disguised in three little words. Nothing in life is absolutely safe, anal sex included. However, there are many ways that we can make anal sex a lower risk activity. Thankfully, these are the same ways that we can help anal sex to be more fun and pleasurable, too! I suggest starting here for more information on enjoying safer anal sex, starting with the basics:

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