February 19, 2003
It's funny in Kansas
Arts and Entertainment
DEAR ANDREA: My friend told me that owing to frequent sex with her boyfriend, she is in pain when she uses the bathroom. She didn't have any lubrication, so they used lotion. That has to be the dumbest thing I have ever heard. She does not see the problem in this. Could you help me explain the dangers to her?
Love, Helpful Pal
Dear Pal: Your friend's choice may not be optimal, but I've heard dumber. Mu-u-u-uch dumber.
Once upon a time, the only lube was K-Y Jelly, which was embarrassing to buy and had unfortunate connotations ("This won't hurt a bit"). The whole lube thing didn't really take off until the advent of safer sex in the mid to late '80s. Most people didn't realize they needed anything other than a little spit until they were faced with trying to force a latex-wrapped appendage into a dryish orifice and found that it just wouldn't go. Nobody knew there was a market, so nobody was rushing to develop ever newer, ever slicker substances. Nowadays most people won't go anywhere or do anything without a generous application of lubricant, and no wonder lube makes almost any sex act sexier. (No, not oral sex. But you knew what I meant.)
Given that Astroglide was mighty scarce back in, say, 1965, people did indeed use hand lotion on occasion. Also soap, Vaseline, baby oil, Crisco, and for all I know whale oil and cod liver oil. With the possible exception of Crisco, none of these belong up anyone's privates, but humans are resourceful, and they will use whatever's handy.
There are two major problems with using lotion. If she's relying on condoms for birth control or STD protection, she might as well not bother. Most lotions contain mineral oil, which will eat right through latex. The other problem is everything that isn't mineral oil: perfumes and surfactants and god-knows-what that can irritate or cause an allergic reaction. Her pain may be caused by insufficient lube, the wrong lube, or something else all together, but she won't be able to tell until she stops making it worse by adding irritants and allergens.
Get her some lube if she's too silly to get it herself, but no need to panic her. The wrong substance may be irritating, but it's hardly life threatening. Just remember: your parents probably used lotion or something worse, and they survived to make you.
Dear Andrea: When I have sex, it hurts, like a burning and a tearing at the same time. I know it isn't an STD. I just don't want to go to the doctor and have him "look at me." Advice?
Love, Burning Love
Dear Burning: You didn't mention whether you're lubricating (getting wet) much, but I'm going to guess that you aren't. "Burning and tearing" is a pretty good description of how it feels when you try to force something into a dry vagina. The water-based lubes we were discussing above will take care of that. It isn't even embarrassing to buy them; they're right on the shelf at the drugstore, next to the condoms (hint, hint).
That's the quick fix. It will work, but if you're not getting wet, maybe you need more kissing, stroking, fingering, or licking before you try to put anything in. For most girls, jumping into intercourse without a long, slow, sexy buildup won't feel sexy; it'll just feel boring, annoying, or downright painful.
One of these days, though, you're going to have to let a doctor "look at you." It's embarrassing at first, but you'll get over it when you see how unshocked the doctor is that you have genitals. It'll be OK.
Dear Andrea: Do condoms and spermicide work if you're having sex in the shower?
Love, Wet Ones
Dear Wet: Condoms are waterproof. The more serious question is what happens to the spermicide. That depends on where it is. If it's inside the condom, it isn't going anywhere. The guy would have to stand in the stream, stretching the top of the condom out from the shaft and angling himself just so to fill it with water and dilute the spermicide past the point of utility. If it's inside the woman, she'll have to stand directly under the stream. On her head. This is not going to happen by accident.
If you're really worried, reapply. Spermicide is just a backup, though. As long as the condom's intact, it isn't doing anything.
Andrea Nemerson is on vacation this week. The column above ran in the Bay Guardian Dec. 5, 2001.
E-mail Andrea Nemerson at email@example.com.