This Week in Sex: A Self-Lubricating Condom?

And in other news: The HPV vaccine is now recommended for adults up to age 45, and it turns out that sex with an ex might not be a bad idea after all.

[PHOTO: A smiling woman holds up a hand with a rainbow of male condoms on all five of her fingers.]
Researchers are developing a condom that secretes its own lube when it gets wet, and study participants say they like it. But don't get too excited just yet. Those participants only tried it on their hands, not during sex. Shutterstock

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

We’re Not Sure How It Will Work, But Some People Say They Like It

We’ve all heard of self-driving cars, but the latest inanimate object to be given a mind of its own is the condom.

Supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers in Boston created a latex condom that lubricates itself when it comes into contact with bodily fluids. In a very small study, condom users said they liked the feel of this new product better than some others.

Most condoms on the market already come lubricated because a dry condom can cause friction, which can make sex less enjoyable and be irritating to the skin. But lubricants can get diluted or rub off during sex, and when that happens, friction increases as the sex act continues.

To get around this, researchers developed a condom coating that attracts water. The condom stays lubricated as long as it’s in contact with something wet, such as bodily fluids. The researchers found that the coating doesn’t affect the strength of the condom and doesn’t make it more likely to break or leak. It keeps the friction low even after 1,000 cycles of simulated thrusting. And they say the condom still works even in large volumes of water, a bonus for those who like sex in the shower and find that their lube washes off.

In the study, participants preferred the feel of this condom to that of other existing condoms and said that it would make them more likely to use condoms in the future. Anything that increases condom use—thereby decreasing the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)—is great.

However, we have to be a little skeptical because this study only included 33 people and they only felt the condom with their hands; it has not yet been tested during sex.

The researchers have applied for a patent on the condom, but it’s years from market. You may have that self-driving car in your driveway before you have one of these in your nightstand.

In the meantime, remember there’s an aisle in your local pharmacy that is devoted to condoms and lube. There are so many options to choose from—like textured condoms, lube that makes you tingle, or condoms that come with a vibrating ring—that there’s something for everyone. In fact, there’s even lube made for those who like sex in the shower.

HPV Vaccine Now Available for Adults ages 27 to 45

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would approve the use of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil 9 in adults up to age 45. Until now, the cutoff age for getting the vaccine was 26, though the recommendation has always been (and remains) that young people be given the vaccine around age 11, before they are likely to be exposed to this sexually transmitted infection.

HPV is actually a group of about 200 viruses; 40 of them are known to be widespread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 14 million people become infected with HPV each year, but many of them will never know they have this sexually transmitted infection as it often has no visible symptoms. Most cases of HPV (nine out of ten) will resolve themselves within two years with no lasting health effects, but some types of the virus are known to cause cervical cancers as well as cancers of the penis, vulva, anus, head, neck, and throat. Others cause genital warts.

Gardasil 9, which was approved in 2015, is the second generation of the HPV vaccine. It protects against the nine HPV types most likely to cause cancers and genital warts. The original version of the vaccine, which was simply called Gardasil (with no number attached), only protected against four types of HPV.

The vaccine has always been recommended for younger people, based on the ideas that it has to be given before a person is exposed to HPV, and most adults (80 percent) will be exposed to at least one type of the virus at some point in their lives. But even if given later in life, the vaccine can still provide protection against other types of HPV to which a person has not been exposed and, in turn, help prevent certain cancers.

The FDA based its decision in part on a study that followed 3,200 women between the ages of 27 and 45 who had been given the original Gardasil vaccine. After several years, it found the vaccine was 88 percent effective in preventing serious health outcomes related to the HPV types covered by the vaccine, such as genital warts, vulvar and vaginal precancerous lesions, cervical precancerous lesions, and cervical cancer.

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, explained in a statement: “Today’s approval represents an important opportunity to help prevent HPV-related diseases and cancers in a broader age range …. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that HPV vaccination prior to becoming infected with the HPV types covered by the vaccine has the potential to prevent more than 90 percent of these cancers, or 31,200 cases every year, from ever developing.”

The HPV vaccine is given as a series of three shots. Anyone younger than 45 who hasn’t gotten the vaccine yet (because they were told they were too old or for any other reason) should talk to their health-care provider about getting the shot now. We can only hope that health-care providers have learned about the new recommendations. Remember, folks, this vaccine prevents cancer!

One More Time: HPV Vaccine Does Not Make Young People Randy

While we’re on the subject of HPV vaccines, yet another study has been published that confirms what we all already know: Providing young people with the HPV vaccine will not increase their sexual activity. It will simply decrease their risk of bad health outcomes—in this case, cancer. We here at This Week in Sex have written headlines like this so many times over the years that we almost didn’t bother telling you about this latest study. But there are still some people out there who worry that vaccinating a child (the vaccine is recommended at age 11) against an STD will lead them down a path of debauchery and pain. Fear not.

This most recent study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and focuses on girls in British Columbia. Researchers compared data from a study of adolescents conducted before and after the province adopted a widespread HPV vaccination campaign to see if the sexual behavior of adolescent girls changed (because let’s face it, when we say we’re worried about promiscuity, we’re really saying we’re worried that girls will become “loose”).

Surprise, surprise—they don’t. In fact, all measures of sexual behavior improved; fewer girls had sex and those who did were more likely to use a condom or contraception. There was no change in the number of partners girls reported, but fewer girls had sex before age 14 and pregnancy rates dropped.

Obviously, there could be other factors that helped lead to these positive changes in behavior, but it is clear that the widespread vaccination of young women did not create a generation of sex-crazed harlots. Thank goodness. We were (not at all) worried.

Go Ahead, Have Sex With Your Ex—Science Says it’s Just Fine

Your mom, your best friend, this summer’s hit song, and thousands of advice columnists throughout the ages have all been wrong: It is okay to have sex with your ex.

The results from two studies published by the same authors suggest that having sex with an ex makes a person feel closer to the former partner but does not hinder breakup recovery.

The first group of participants started as part of a relationship study but continued to share information with researchers after that relationship ended. Researchers surveyed them right after the breakup, then every day for almost a month, and two months later to determine how they were feeling about themselves, the breakup, and their ex-partner. They also asked if the participant had ever pursued sex with the ex-partner.

They found that the people who had pursued sex with their ex did not fare any worse on assessments of their break-up recovery. In fact, on the days that they did pursue sex, they felt better in general.

One limitation of this study, however, was that the researchers only asked if participants tried to have sex with their ex. They don’t know how many actually followed through.

So the same researchers conducted a second study. This time, they recruited people who had already broken up with a partner within the previous four months and they asked them directly how many times they had attempted sex with an ex and how many times they did it. Turns out most attempts—between 84 and 89 percent—were successful. And, again, the researchers found no problems with post-relationship adjustment.

All decisions about sexual behavior are uniquely personal, and no one can really tell you whether sex with an ex is going to be a carefree, fun romp or a fresh bout of rejection. But according to these scientists, Dua Lipa was just wrong when she sang, “If you’re under him, you ain’t getting over him.”