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Cory Silverberg

New Research on Lubricant Use During Intercourse

By November 10, 2009

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Debby Herbenick is presenting on lubricant use during intercourse at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in Philadelphia. For many years Debby and her colleagues at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion and Indiana University have been doing an important job of playing sex research catch-up; looking at topics of direct relevance to people's sex lives that, for a variety of reasons, have long been ignored by sex researchers. Every time I read one of their studies I'm left with a hundred questions, which for me is always the sign of good research.

One study involved 2,453 women who tracked their own use of water-based or silicone-based lubricants during sexual activity. Some of the findings include:

  • 70% of women said that using a lubricant made sex feel very pleasurable
  • 65% said it made sex feel more comfortable
  • In most cases it was a partner who applied the lubricant
  • The most common reason given for using lubricant was to reduce the risk of vaginal tearing (22%) and to make sex more comfortable (21.8%)
  • Reported side effects (pain or tearing) were rare

A second study of 1,834 men specifically asked about the use of lubricants during vaginal intercourse. According to a prepared release the study involved "8,876 coital events", and findings include:

  • 46.8% of the events involved the use of a latex condom
  • 24.7% involved the use of a lubricant
  • Lube was most frequently applied on the outside tip of the condom after it's on the penis
  • Lube was used more often during intercourse with a spouse than a non-committed partner
  • Lube was used more often when a female partner used Nuva Ring, IUD, or spermicidal foam for birth control

The research hasn't been published yet so there's likely more data forthcoming, but I was surprised there was no mention from participants of using lubricant to reduce the risk of a condom breaking. I feel like that's something educators commonly say, and wonder whether my perception is wrong, or what it means that it may not be in the minds of people when they are thinking of why use lube. Also, selfishly, I'd love to know which lubricants were used in the study and if they collected data about which lubricants people used prior to the studies, and comments about the reasons why they choose one brand over another. Currently I don't know of any user satisfaction data on lubricants that isn't just marketing.

Both studies were supported by the Patty Brisben Foundation, a not-for-profit charitable organization that was set up by the owner of one of the largest sex toy home party companies in the U.S. It's wonderful to see a company in this industry investing in research related to sexual pleasure and health which will eventually benefit those who have supported them by buying sex toys and lubricant. It's rare, and hopefully other companies will take Patty's lead. It's also an opportunity to be mindful of the relationship between funding and research, particularly as products for sexual pleasure become increasingly mainstream and more integrated into sexual health product lines.

Read more - Abstract: Clinical and sexual outcomes following women's use of lubricants during sexual activity

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