Can using lube during sex prevent STIs?

Dear Alice,

Can commercial lubes (that are suggested to be used during sexual intercourse) decrease the possibility of being infected by STIs (sexual transmitted infections)?

Dear Reader,  

Yes, yes, yes! Sexual lubricant can help grease the wheels for a safer and more pleasurable ride. Not only does lube help reduce friction that may cause condoms to break, but it can also reduce friction that might irritate or tear skin in the vagina or anus. These benefits are key to protecting against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) because it minimizes the chance that STIs are able to enter the body. There are many types of lube, but water- or silicone-based options that don’t contain spermicide are your best bet for reducing STI risk.   

It’s critical to note that all lubes aren’t created equal. Water-based lubes are a favorite since they play well with condoms (i.e., doesn't
degrade the material) and clean up easily. Using oil-based lubricants such as petroleum jelly, vegetable oil, or baby oil with latex condoms damages latex, making condoms more permeable to STIs and more likely to break. For an extra slippery feel that's latex-friendly, you may consider trying a silicone-based lube. Keep in mind that silicone doesn't dissolve easily, so you may need to wash up with soapy water.   

It’s also worth noting that there's a distinction to make between lubricants to reduce friction and the use of spermicidal jelly or foam. These contraceptive products contain the chemical nonoxynol-9, also known as N-9, which kills sperm. While this chemical may be effective at preventing pregnancy, it can also irritate or damage sensitive skin in the genital area, making a person more susceptible to STIs. If you’re looking for STI protection, it may be wise to avoid condoms coated with N-9 or lubes containing N-9.  

Using condoms properly is the most effective way to protect against STIs and getting wetter can make it better! 

Last updated Apr 09, 2021
Originally published Apr 16, 2010

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