enough with the nonoxynol-9 already

by Violet Blue on February 1, 2007

herpleasure.jpgTwo items today about the toxic lube/condom additive Nonoxynol-9 — one is the sad news that tests on an HIV prevention gel for women (or rather, the pentrate-ee) have been halted due to an increase of HIV infection as a result of using the gel. Argh. Would have been great in countries and in cultures where men refuse to wear condoms. This article details how the failed HIV prevention gel acted just like Nonoxynol-9, snip:

“Monitors found that 35 women had already become HIV-positive since enrollment began in July 2005, and the majority of them were getting the actual microbicide, cellulose sulfate, instead of an inert placebo gel.

The microbicide that was meant to reduce HIV infection actually appeared to promote it. The news eerily echoed the past.

Almost seven years ago, Van Damme herself stunned scientists and activists at the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, when she announced that women in a major study using the contraceptive gel nonoxynol-9 had a 52 percent higher HIV infection rate than those given a placebo.” Link.

The thing is, N-9 was hugely popular as a spermicidal anti-HIV additive in lubes, contraceptive foams and gels and condoms throughout the 90s, but as awareness spread in sex ed communities and non-mainstream sex retailing, people stopped selling and recommending the stuff. However, still, lots of people don’t know it’s harmful (it actually *abrades* skin) and sexual shame combined with ignorance keeps awareness out of the mainstream. Harmful, yes, but still it sells, so retailers and manufacturers keep selling it. Sound familiar? What’s more, I just got this email from a UK-based doctor, snip:

“Hi. I read with interest your comments on ‘Nonoxynol-9′. I worked with closely related compounds during my PhD research in the mid-90s.

You might be interested to know that when ‘Nonoxynol-9′ breaks down in the environment, one of the substances produced is nonylphenol, which has been shown to have ‘feminising’ effects in fish- male fish exposed to it have developed egg cells in their testes. Something to think about for those men applying it to their genitals?

As a result of this, and its persistence in the environment, nonylphenol based detergents like ‘Nonoxynol-9′ have effectively been banned in the EU, curiously with the exception of use as a spermicide.

‘Nonoxynol-9′ is actually a trade name- the chemical can broadly be described as a polyethoxylated nonylphenol, or a nonylphenol ethoxylate, part of the wider group of alkylphenol ethoxylates. It has a chain of 9 ethoxy units*, hence the ’9′ in the name. It’s also sometimes known as NP9EO.

I also worked, very briefly, with phthalates (incidentally, the ‘ph’ is usually pronounced by UK chemists). I was told that some phthalates (dioctyl phthalate, perhaps?) are also endocrine-disrupting (‘feminising’) in the same way as nonylphenols. I’ve not had a good look at this research, though.

I hope this is of interest,
[name redacted]

*In fact, the industrial ethoxylation process usually results in a mixture with varying lengths of ethoxy chain- it’s more likely that it’s an average of 9 units in length.”

** I added the Wikipedia and Boing Boing link to his email.

Who still pushes N-9? Its harmfulness is well-documented. It’s interesting to see condom companies have taken stances on N-9 — or not. Condom Depot has taken a very strong stance on the health risks associated with N-9 and condoms and lubes, and in fact has one of the most detailed resources on the myths of N-9 I’ve seen yet, CDC references and all. Condomania, on the other hand, sheepishly carries “spermicidal” condoms which have N-9 in them, but doesn’t list it on the product info pages. Hm. Manufacturers are no better. Trojan makes a line of N-9 condoms, including the unfortunately labeled “Trojan Her Pleasure“; Lifestyles is on the list, as is Beyond Seven. Of course, you could just inject the stuff right into your vagina.

Violet Blue

The London Times named Violet Blue "One of the 40 bloggers who really count" and Self Magazine named TinyNibbles one of the “Best Sex Resources for Women.” Blue is an autodidact and pundit on sex and technology, hacking and security, porn for women, privacy and bleeding-edge tech culture. She is a journalist for ZDNet, CBS News, CNET; she's an educator, speaker, crisis counselor, volunteer NGO trainer, and the author and editor of over 40 award-winning books.

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