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Petroleum Jelly Use Linked to STI Risk

Return to The Insider: News & Views

April 25 2013

Petroleum jelly

This article is part of our Women & AIDS series, a series designed to raise awareness among women about HIV/AIDS risk factors, as well as prevention strategies.

If you are a woman, using petroleum jelly as a lubricant could increase your risk of contracting bacterial vaginosis. One of the first studies on women’s intravaginal product use, conducted here at AIDS Research Alliance and published in the April issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, indicates that the use of petroleum jelly as a female lubricant is associated with a more-than-twofold increase in a woman’s chances of having bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis, a vaginal infection resulting from an imbalance in “good” and “bad” bacteria, has been shown to put women at increased risk for pelvic inflammatory disease, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV.

Background on the Study:

AIDS Research Alliance followed 141 women of different ages and ethnicities for a period of one year between 2008 and 2010. The women tracked their own sexual activity, vaginal practices, and vaginal symptoms. Almost 50% of the women reported using an intravaginal over-the-counter product, with petroleum jelly and lubricant topping the list. Petroleum jelly use was most common among black women (33.3%), followed by white women (13.9%), and then Latinas (7.7%). ARA’s research team found that women who used petroleum jelly during the previous month were more than twice as likely to test positive for bacterial vaginosis as women who did not – raising concern about the use of petroleum jelly as an intravaginal product.

“Any product that doesn’t account for pH balance or acts as a surfactant or soap is likely to throw off the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina, making women more susceptible to infection,” explained ARA Medical Director Dr. Stephen Brown, co-author of the study. “While petroleum jelly is considerably cheaper than lubricant, the risks associated with its use are even costlier. The results of this study reinforce the need for education – women need to know about the risks inherent in using certain products, especially those that have not been designed for vaginal use.”




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