I am a public health student and an intern at the health & wellness center at a university. This is safe sex awareness month on campus. My boss got donations from some sex toy companies that we are giving away to students. Among the products we received is something that marketed as "Desensitizing Anal Wipes" by a company called California Exotic Novelties.

We gave away these samples at our recent expo. After the fair, a student came up to my boss and me and expressed concern over the anal desensitizing wipes. As a young gay man, he said expressed concern that desensitizing anal wipes were not safe to use, as masking pain could in fact lead to engaging in activities that you may not otherwise. I am assuming that what he meant here is that if you are experiencing pain during anal sex, then you probably shouldn't proceed, and masking the pain with a desensitizing wipe could result in more pain later on, or perhaps even an injury. Not having much experience with the back door myself, I am not sure I am well equipped to inform students about this issue. I know with anal sex you need to take things slow, use lots of lube, and work your way up to it, but that's about the extent of my knowledge in this area. Of course, the last thing we want is for students to think we are not acting in their best interest. My boss felt very bad that a student had this reaction.

I'd like to know what the Dan Savage take is on anal desensitizing wipes? Yay or nay? Are these types of products counterproductive to safe sex, especially among gay men? Of course my natual inclination is to say that one should not use these products to make anal sex possible when it wouldn't be otherwise, and that people should employ the methods discussed in your column/podcast instead. But labeling these as outright dangerous? Not sure where to stand on that one. Your help would be greatly appreciated!

A Sensitive Subject

My response after the jump...


I'd actually never heard of Desensitizing Anal Wipes—nor had I ever heard of California Exotic Novelties—until I got your letter, ASS. And the first thing that popped up when I Googled "desensitizing anal wipes" was this: "Sex on the Go Desensitizing Anal Wipes are perfect for using before anal sex to reduce friction pains and ease entry."

Emphasis mine and, well, goshgolly.

Anyone who's too stupid to use lube for anal sex—and anyone who is using lube and somehow doesn't realize that reducing friction and easing entry is what lube is down there to do—won't be helped or harmed by a "desensitizing" moist towelette that retails for $3.95. I don't know what the active ingredient is in a California Exotic Novelties' Desensitizing Anal Wipe, ASS, but I can't imagine the suckers who buy 'em are getting a pharmaceutical-grade topical anesthetic for their four dollars. Whatever's in the "desensitizing formula" mentioned on the website, I'm thinking it's drop or two of menthol and not, say, the shit your dentist applies to your gums immediately before she jabs a needle into your jaw.

So, ASS, I doubt that anyone who wipes himself with one of those things before anal intercourse is going to wind up with an ass so benumbed that he won't realize he's being torn to shreds until after he sees blood and santorum all over the sheets, pillows, walls, floor, boyfriend, ceiling, XBox 360, cats, etc.

But while numbing wipes won't kill anyone, ASS, your org definitely sent the wrong message by handing them out. A health group that's trying to de-stigmatize and normalize anal intercourse shouldn't be implicitly endorsing a product that plays on people's fears and misconceptions about anal sex. What desensitizing anal wipes say, and what your org told students the day you handed 'em out, is that they should expect anal intercourse to be painful. Anal shouldn't be painful, of course, and if it is painful, well, then you're doing it wrong—you're rushing, you're not using enough lube, you're not engaging in enough foreplay (rimming, fingers, toys, etc.).

It's important for people to understand that, if they're doing anal and it hurts, something is wrong and they should stop. Desensitizing wipes send the opposite message. Your org did too, ASS, when you passed the wipes out.