Lubes and HIV

A research study shows that some sexual lubricants may kill the AIDS virus.

Topics: AIDS, Sex, Love and Sex,

Lubes and HIV

Condoms every time. If you’re in a new relationship or nonmonogamous, that’s one of the most important ways of preventing infection with HIV, the AIDS virus, according to health officials. But with more than 6 million new HIV infections annually, it’s clear that many people don’t use condoms every time.

At the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, a team led by noted virus researcher Samuel Baron, M.D., a professor of microbiology, has discovered what could be another promising way to reduce risk of HIV transmission — three safe, inexpensive, widely available sexual lubricants.

With financing from the National Institutes of Health, the MacArthur Foundation and the University of Texas, Baron’s team mixed small amounts of 22 over-the-counter sexual lubricants with similar amounts of HIV-infected semen. A day later, the semen was analyzed for the presence of HIV using virus-counting methods standard in AIDS research. Three of the lubricants reduced HIV replication by more than 99.9 percent. Results of the study were published in November in one of the many peer-reviewed medical journals rarely read by the news media or the public, “AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses.” Salon read the report and interviewed Baron by phone.

So, lubricants can prevent HIV transmission? All sexual lubricants?

No. We tested 22 brands and found that three reduce HIV replication by more than 99.9 percent. The most popular one is Astroglide (also sold under the name Silken Secret). The other two are Vagisil and ViAmor.

How do they work?

They contain compounds that kill HIV. The other lubricants we tested don’t.

You mixed the lubricants with HIV-infected semen, then waited a day to test for HIV. Why the wait?

You Might Also Like

It takes a little time to deactivate HIV. At 24 hours, the three lubricants were remarkably effective HIV-killers. They destroyed HIV in the white blood cells the virus infects. They also killed free HIV floating around in the semen.

What got you started on this work? What made you think sexual lubricants might kill HIV?

It was an outgrowth of the well-documented observation that HIV is much less likely to be transmitted when semen enters the mouth than the vagina. Physiologically, the mouth and vagina are pretty similar. The main difference is that the mouth contains saliva. Saliva is unique in that it’s the only fluid the body produces that’s salt-free. The white blood cells that HIV infects contain salt. If you put those cells in salt-free saliva, they burst, and the HIV in them gets destroyed. That’s why it’s hard to transmit HIV during oral sex. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy.

My colleagues and I were sitting around the lab one day wondering if there were anything we could add to the vagina that might have action similar to saliva. An obvious possibility was contraceptive spermicide. It kills sperm, so maybe it would kill HIV. Only it doesn’t. Early in the AIDS epidemic, in the mid-1980s, several researchers tested the active ingredient in spermicides, nonoxynol-9, and found that it didn’t reduce HIV transmission at all. In fact, in some studies, it enhanced it. Why? The consensus view is that nonoxynol-9 irritates the vaginal lining, which provides a route for HIV into the bloodstream.

So we turned our attention to lubricants. The preservatives in them kill bacteria. We thought they might kill HIV. So we took a shot. Turned out we were right — but for the wrong reason.

The wrong reason?

The preservatives had no effect. If they did, all 22 lubricants would have worked. But only three lubricants killed HIV. It turned out that they contain two compounds that kill HIV.

Which compounds?

We’ve just submitted a scientific paper that names them. Until that paper is published, I am not at liberty to say. But I will say this: The two compounds are common, widely used, and inexpensive. They could easily be used by women in Africa and other parts of the world where AIDS is a major problem and where condoms are not popular. We’re encouraging the U.S. government, the United Nations, the three lubricants’ manufacturers to finance field tests.

Based on your laboratory tests, are you prepared to say that Astroglide and the others will kill HIV during sex?

We don’t know that for certain because we haven’t done field trials. And I want to be very clear that to prevent HIV transmission, people should use condoms. Condoms first. But with that said, sexual lubricants help prevent condom breakage, so apart from any HIV-preventive value they might have, they help keep condoms intact, which is valuable. In addition, lubricants are safe and inexpensive, and they make intercourse more comfortable. Sexuality authorities recommend lubricants. If I were nonmonogamous or with a new partner, the situations where HIV transmission is an issue, I’d use a lubricant that has shown activity against HIV, even if only in a laboratory study. I mean, why not? There’s no downside, and there’s a potentially major upside.

Michael Castleman is the author of "Sexual Solutions: For Men and the Women Who Love Them."

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>