Friday, December 4, 2009

Down the Slippery Slope: Coconut Oil and Condoms

Dear Jo and Ross,

My doctor suggested that I use coconut oil as a sexual lubricant. Everything I’ve read says that oil-based lubes including coconut oil will cause my partner’s condom to break, but my doctor assured me that wouldn’t happen. What do you think?

Coconut Conundrum

Dear CC,

Thanks for writing us with your important question. Sexual lubricants are an important component of many people’s sex lives. Although our bodies make their own lube in some instances (pre-cum, saliva, vaginal fluid), many people find that additional lube makes for more pleasurable (and comfortable) sex. But the number one warning with lube and safe sex is that oil-based lubricants degrade latex barriers, such as condoms and dental dams. We think that this warning can sometimes be a slippery slope used to promote public health, but may not be the whole truth.

Oil + Rubber

Here’s a quick sexy science experiment that sex educators have been using for years. Blow up a latex condom and tie it like a balloon. Placing a few drops of baby oil on your fingertips, massage it into the condom. Within a few seconds, the condom will pop. Why? Baby oil, lotion, vegetable oil, and many other oils cause latex to lose its elasticity and break down. Obviously, the condom isn’t much of a barrier if it has a hole in it. In addition to breakage, however, oil-based lubricants are also found to cause the condom to slip off the penis, decreasing the condom’s effectiveness.

Looking for Lube

Find the right lube for you can be a delightful task. When looking for lube, consider the sexual acts you’ll be using lube with.  For vaginal intercourse, it’s important to find a lube that isn’t too sweet (sugar in the vagina = yeast infection). For anal intercourse, a thicker lube may be necessary. Vaseline, in addition to being oil-based, can also hang around in the rectum or vagina, allowing bacteria and other particles to accumulate. Generally, marketed sexual lubricants are best for internal use. For masturbation that doesn’t involve penetration, you may find that you have a wider range of lubes that you can enjoy. If a particular lube causes irritation, discontinue that lube, perhaps talk to your healthcare provider, and try, try again.

Cuckoo for Coconuts

Coconut oil is found in the baking aisle in most grocery stories. At room temperature, coconut oil is a white, greasy paste; applied to the skin, coconut oil warms and becomes a clear oil. Although coconut oil got a bad rap in the 90′s as unhealthy, coconut fans talk at length of the health benefits of coconuts and coconut oil specifically. While more commonly used as a massage oil, we have heard of coconut oil being prescribed as a sexual lubricant for use with condoms.

Although many oil-based lubes degrade condoms, including semi-natural oils like vegetable oil, Crisco, and olive oil, the degree that an oil causes a condom to break may not all be the same based on the physical and chemical properties of the oil. One reason this message has been spread so thick is to ultimately promote safer sex. For many people in the public health field, it is important that individuals change behaviors; rather than provide a complex message about which specific oils may be safer and when, it is much easier to just rule out all oils and other oil-based lubricants. “Doin’ It Well” supports this message.. It is important to be wary of using oil-based lubricants with latex condoms.

At the same time, your doctor may have prescribed coconut oil for several reasons. As oils go, coconut oil’s properties may make it easier on your system than synthetic lubes. Also, there’s not much research out there on coconut oil’s particular effect on latex. It may be that coconut oil doesn’t (or doesn’t quickly) degrade latex condoms, and in the absence of other factors (lack of lubrication, long penetrative sex, poor fitting condom), coconut oil may work almost as well as water-based lubricants. If your healthcare provider’s advice makes you nervous, you should feel free to seek a second opinion from another qualified health provider (we don’t count!).

Staying Flexible

If you enjoy the feel of coconut oil, but prefer to be on the safe side, there are also other types of condoms you could be using. Polyurethane condoms (Durex Supra or Trojan Avanti) are available at most stores, and do not respond to oil-based lubricants like latex condoms. Although less elastic than latex condoms, polyurethane provides a similar feel and strength, without the worry of breakage.

Join us next week as we explore the fear of a queer planet.

Sex 411: Lube lube lube

  • If the lube you are using isn’t cutting it, there are many variations to experiment with
  • Non-latex condoms, including the female condom, can be used with a wider range of lubricants

Posted by Jo Sanger & Ross Wantland in 05:58:34

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