Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work
MAY 21, 2018
In the context of intimacy, I have written before about personal lubricants. In addition to the many varieties that are easily available online or in stores, I will remind you here of two easily available and totally non-embarrassing options. The first is Albolene, a rather old-fashioned product that is sold primarily as a facial cleanser. You will find it on the shelves next to cold cream and various make-up removers. It comes in a tub and, at first glance, looks like melted candle wax. Once it comes into contact with the warmth of your skin, it gets very soft and is easily spread wherever you would like to put it. (Humorous aside: When talking about the product once with one of my support groups, one woman became totally horrified and said: My grandmother always had that in her bathroom. We don't know whether Granny was sexually active and well-informed or whether she was washing her face.) The second suggestion is canola oil or coconut oil. I heard about this possibility from a patient who had heard about it from her GYN. I called him to confirm, and he said he had been recommending it for years. (Second humorous aside: I once mentioned this to a patient who returned the next week absolutely furious with me. It turned out that she had used canola oil as a lubricant and then had sex on the beach. Sand and oil do not mix well.)
Today's comments are more directed at product safety. Many of us have concerns about what we swallow, breathe, or put on or in our bodies. This came up at a recent meeting of my GYN support group. One woman recently completed radiation therapy for endometrial cancer, and she had been given a set of dilators with instructions to use them (or have sex) three days/week for the rest of her life. Otherwise, there was concern that her vagina would tighten up/shrink. She was told to use only water-based lubricants. She is unwilling to put products full of unpronounceable ingredients into herself and undertook a big search to find acceptable products.
Here is her note to the group:
Those of you who were there at our last support group will remember that I talked about the issue of safe personal lubricants -- relevant for "vaginal dilation" following brachytherapy. I said I'd send out the info I got on-line and hope that some of you have more info or thoughts about this -- or perhaps this will be helpful to others.
The main point of the comments (from August 2011) I found on the website ("Cancer Survivors' Network" of the American Cancer Society: https:csn.cancer.org/node/225142) is that many vaginal lubricants are actually dangerous, containing parabens, hormones, silicons, etc. -- and it's very difficult to find good info about their ingredients. One product that is mentioned by the women who wrote in is "Astroglide Glycerin & Paraben Free", another is "Yes" (water based) and a third is Sylk, but which may not be available in the U.S.
It was pointed out that the Environmental Working Group (EWG.ORG) does have a rating of all kinds of personal and household products.
Would love to hear other ideas.