Scientifically Proven for Female Pleasure? What's in Your Lube?

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KY's ad campaign featuring everyday couples putting a bit of spice into their sex lives is deserving of praise. In KY's ads, the use of the lubricant isn't trumpeted -- KY's ads say the use of sex aids are perfectly normal, rather than deviant or a fix for defectiveness -- the problem is what they claim using their lubricant will do for women: give them the best sex of their lives, as proven by science.


"Sexual satisfaction" via Shutterstock.

KY may promote a healthier view of sex aids, but the purpose of their ad campaign is to sell product. To boost sales of their latest offering INTENSE®, KY didn't go for the hard sell or the soft sell -- it goes for the oversell.

Previously, I have written on the chemistry of one of KY's excessively hyped products, YOURS + MINE®, which promised mind-blowing sex by means of mixing the two lubes (YOURS and MINE) during the act. For their INTENSE® lubricant, KY is going with the "science" sell by stating this lubricant is "scientifically proven to intensify female satisfaction."

Their site helpfully contains the standard ingredients for their product:

PEG-8

There are several PEG (polyethylene glycol compounds and the numbers (e.g. 8) designate a specific type. PEG-8 is commonly used in cosmetics, employed as a lubricant, stabilizer and binder.

Propylene Glycol

This is a commonly used lubricant.

Hydroxypropyl Cellulose

Multiple intended uses for hydroxypropyl cellulose include: emulsifier, film former, stabilizer and thickener. It is commonly used to treat dry eye under the brand name Lacrisert®.

Tocopherol

Vitamin E is often thought to be a single compound, but it is actually a family of compounds called tocopherols. It is unclear which tocopherol KY is referring to here, but alpha-tocopherol is one with the greatest nutritional significance, as well as a popular cosmetics additive.

Vitamin E, an oil at room temperature, has been used as a moisturizer for hair and skin, as well as a treatment for vaginal dryness.

Niacin

Commonly known as vitamin B3, niacin is routinely used in cosmetics as a hair and skin conditioner.

Fragrance

"Fragrance" is a catch-all term for things that have been added strictly to make a product smell nice.

Where is the science?

Tracking down the hard proof that these ingredients add up to "intensify female satisfaction" was a down-the-rabbit hole journey. Take a peek at the K-Y® Brand INTENSE® page on k-y.com and you'll see no mention of the product being "scientifically proven" to do anything. You will, however, see reference to "consumer use studies."


Screen grab from the K-Y INTENSE page, emphasis added.

But then over on the product's page on kyshopdirect.com, which is also administered by KY, the "scientifically proven" claim pops up again, along with another reference to "consumer use studies" and the impressive-sounding phrase "patent pending."


Screen grab from the K-Y INTENSE page at kyshopdirect.com, emphasis added.

These two websites don't offer details on the science behind that "scientifically proven" claim, but a Zelda Lily review of INTENSE offers a few breadcrumbs with a quote from KY's Product Director Susan Tang:

For years women have been asking us for a product designed to enhance their satisfaction. KY Brand has answered with KY Intense, the only female arousal gel on the market backed by clinical studies and more than 85 years of knowing what women want.

Here is where things get sticky. What does Tang mean by "clinical studies"? It is doubtful that Tang is using this term as an alternative for "clinical trial." By definition, a clinical trial is a four-phase "research study designed to test the safety and/or effectiveness of drugs, devices, treatments, or preventive measures in humans."

Clinical trials are not easy to plan, get approval for or administer. Clinical research is governed by the same ethical and legal codes as a medical practice, in addition to being federally regulated. Simply put, not every Tom, Dick and Harry (or KY) can run a clinical trial.

What KY can and does do is test their lubricants' potential to cause "contact sensitization," a type of allergic reaction. Such testing is referred to in KY's premarket notifications to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for various lubricants including ULTRA GEL, INTRIQUE, INTRIQUE Intense Warming Sensation and WARMING Liquid. This testing will reveal if a product is an irritant, but it certainly won't prove INTENSE will "intensify female satisfaction."

The science behind KY's "scientifically proven" claim is proving to be hard to nail down and it doesn't get easier with the help of a medical doctor. As it happens, Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, is featured on the site dedicated to INTENSE in a section titled Ask Dr. Hilda.

Dr. Hutcherson's answers to many questions concerning INTENSE refer to the science or scientists behind the lube, but her answers don't provide details, either. Here is a sampling:

Q:How does it work?

A: INTENSE® is a blend of what they call "sensory enhancers" that, when massaged onto the clitoris, provides unique sensations that help increase sensitivity for a more intense climax. Who says science isn't fun!?

Q: How does it compare to other products?

A: There are no other products quite like INTENSE®, and using it is a truly unique experience! A lot of very smart scientists worked very hard to develop a superior formula, and you can feel the difference. A study has shown that INTENSE® out-performs the competition, as INTENSE® users experienced enhanced sensitivity and more satisfying climaxes. It's the first and only female arousal gel from K-Y® Brand, so it's definitely something special.

Q: What are the ingredients in K-Y® INTENSE®?

A:K-Y® INTENSE® is a combination of sensory ingredients specially formulated to dial up your sex life. They include PEG-8, Propylene Glycol, Hydroxypropylcellulose, Tocopherol, Niacin, and Fragrance.

Q: How was K-Y® INTENSE® developed?

A:With lots of hard work and some "rigorous" testing! … When researchers discovered that K-Y® Brand customers wanted a product to enhance female satisfaction, talented K-Y® scientists got right down to business. After countless hours in the lab and many clinical studies, K-Y® INTENSE® was created, increasing pleasure and waking up neighbors all over the world.

This smoke-and-mirrors may be the bread-and-butter of sales, but science requires substance and transparency. KY says INTENSE is "scientifically proven to intensify female satisfaction" but offers absolutely no details as to the scientific tests that should be required to deem something "scientifically proven." Did KY do any scientific tests to prove INTENSE intensifies "female satisfaction"? Depends on how "scientific test" is defined.

Ask a scientist and their answer will reference the scientific method, complete with testing hypotheses and theories, along with replication and peer review. In my journey down the rabbit role in search of KY's science, I saw no evidence of such scientific testing. There was, however, some evidence of KY conducting consumer surveys.

All of the KY-administered sites visited (k-y.com, kyshopdirect and intenseeffect.com) contain the statement "75 percent of women in consumer use studies who used K-Y® Brand INTENSE® experienced heightened arousal, sexual pleasure, and sensitivity where it counts most."

KY has a history of using consumer surveys during the product development process, as evidenced by the previously noted premarket notifications to the FDA. It is reasonable to assume KY did the same with INTENSE.

Are consumer use surveys enough to earn INTENSE a "scientifically proven" badge? To this scientist, the answer is: absolutely not. Consumer surveys are informative and can be a powerful tool in product development, but they don't prove a product actually does what it claims. If anything, they indicate the consumer believes a product does what it claims.

Practically speaking, one problem with KY possibly using consumer surveys to prove INTENSE intensifies "female satisfaction" is found in the product's directions:


Screen grab from the K-Y® Brand INTENSE® website, emphasis added.

As we well know, foreplay and clitoral stimulation are activities that increase what KY calls "female satisfaction." Does it matter if INTENSE is used? Could you use K-Y's TINGLING® Jelly instead? Or Astroglide®? Or saliva, for that matter? Such alternatives would have been employed in scientific testing of INTENSE. Unfortunately, it looks like KY didn't do any such testing, rendering the "scientifically proven" assertion as it regards INTENSE -- for lack of a better word -- completely impotent.

Radium Yttrium is an analytical chemist and editor-in-command of the Journal of Are You F*cking Kidding bringing you the finest in sarcasm, satire an scientific sh*t-talkin'. You can follow her on Twitter @DrRubidium.

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