Trying to conceive and need help with lubrication? You’re not alone.
That’s why many couples turn to lube when trying to conceive. Lubricants decrease friction, making sex more pleasurable – for both partners!
But when it comes to lube and fertility, it pays to be choosy. Many vaginal lubricants can impair sperm movement, making it tougher for the little swimmers to reach an egg.
Luckily, today there are plenty of ‘fertility-friendly’ lubricants on the market. In this article, we’ll cover what sets these ‘sperm-friendly’ lubricants apart, ingredients to avoid, and natural ways to lube up.
Introduction to vaginal lubricants
Vaginal lubricants (aka lube) are gels or liquids that help reduce friction during sexual activity. This can enhance the comfort and pleasure of sex, especially if vaginal dryness is an issue.
Lubricant use is quite common. Close to two-thirds of women have used lubricants at some point, and around 20% used lube in the last month.
Lubricants tend to fall into three different categories: water-based, silicone-based, or oil-based. There are also hybrid lubes that contain a combo of ingredients.
Here are a few pros and cons of the three types of lubricants:
- Water-based lubricants: Water-based lubes are safe to use with condoms and sex toys. But they tend to dry up quickly and may need to be reapplied.
- Silicone-based lubricants: Silicone-based lubes last longer than water-based lubes and are safe for condoms. But they can ruin sex toys.
- Oil-based lubricants: Oil-based lubes are heavier, so they last longer. But they’re messy and can stain sheets. Oil-based lubes are also more likely to irritate the vagina and degrade condoms (but if you’re TTC, that won’t matter!).
Why do couples use lubricants when TTC?
These rigid timelines can kill spontaneity, which may lower sexual desire. And when you’re not feeling ‘in the mood,’ lubrication suffers.
Not to mention, trying to conceive – while exciting – can be stressful. And stress can interfere with arousal, making natural lubrication more difficult.
Hormonal imbalances can also decrease fertile cervical mucus, especially low estrogen. One of estrogen’s many jobs is to help your vagina stay lubricated and healthy. So if estrogen is low, it may be harder to get wet.
Plus, some fertility medications like Clomiphene citrate block estrogen production. This may lead to vaginal dryness.
That’s where lube comes in handy. Vaginal lubricants can fill in the gaps when cervical mucus is scarce. But they’re not all created equal.
Can sperm survive in lube?
It depends on the lube. Many vaginal lubricants have ingredients that harm sperm motility. This makes it more difficult for sperm to swim to the fallopian tubes and fertilize the egg.
For example, one study tested two water-based lubricants to see their impact on sperm. After 15 minutes, no live or motile sperm were present in 80% of semen samples.
Clearly, this is not good if you’re trying to get pregnant! But keep in mind, these were in vitro lab studies. Research in the real world tells a different story.
Does lube affect fertility?
Confusing, I know! Researchers were surprised too and proposed some theories on why lubes didn’t harm fertility.
One theory was that lubricant may stay in the lower vagina. Since semen is usually released in the upper vagina, sperm may not even make contact with lube.
Another theory was that since lubricant makes sex more enjoyable, lube users may do the deed more often. This may increase their chances of conception, and in a sense, cancel out any adverse effects of using lube.
Even so, the stakes are high when you’re trying to conceive. Since vaginal lubricants harm sperm function, many couples feel uneasy about using lube.
That’s why in 2017, amid growing concerns, the FDA introduced new criteria for ‘fertility-friendly’ lubricants.
What are fertility lubricants?
Fertility lubricants mimic cervical mucus and are tested to ensure they’re safe for conception. To be deemed ‘fertility-friendly’ by the FDA (known as PEB lubricants), lube must meet certain guidelines.
‘Sperm-friendly’ or ‘fertility-friendly’ lubricants must:
- Be water-based
- Go through extensive testing proving they’re not harmful to sperm, eggs, or fertilization
- Have a neutral pH of around 7.0 closer to that of semen and fertile cervical mucus
- Be isotonic, meaning its osmolality (or hydration level) is similar to the vagina (270 mOsm/kg)
- Be tested for endotoxins, byproducts of bacteria that can damage sperm and eggs in even small amounts
So if you’re trying to conceive and need help with lubrication, choose a fertility lubricant that’s FDA-approved. That way you can rest easy knowing your lube won’t interfere with your conception efforts.
Lubricant ingredients to avoid
Choosing a lube with the ‘fertility-friendly’ label is a good start if you’re trying to get pregnant.
But you’ll still want to read the ingredient list carefully. Even some ‘sperm-friendly’ lubricants may have iffy ingredients.
Here are a few ingredients to watch out for:
Glycerin (or glycerol) is a natural plant compound used in many lubes to help them retain moisture. The trouble is, glycerin makes the osmolality of lube too high and decreases sperm motility. Glycerin is also a sugar alcohol, which can disrupt the vagina’s delicate balance of healthy bacteria.
- Propylene glycol
Propylene glycol is a chemical used in food, cosmetics, personal care products, and even antifreeze (yikes!). Like glycerin, propylene glycol has a high osmolality, which can dry out vaginal tissue and harm sperm. In small amounts, it’s unlikely to have much effect. But if you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s best to play it safe.
Parabens are chemical preservatives found in many personal care products, including lube. They are considered endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which can upset your hormonal balance. Parabens are linked with lower pregnancy rates, lower follicle count, and even breast cancer. So avoiding parabens is a smart move, whether you’re TTC or not.
Can I use oil for lube?
Household oils are inexpensive and convenient, so they’re tempting to use as lube. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the best fit for fertility.
Baby oil doesn’t adversely affect sperm motility. But baby oil can irritate the vagina and increase the risk of yeast infections.
And while coconut oil is a popular moisturizer, there isn’t enough data to know how it affects sperm. So until we know more, it’s best to stick to ‘sperm-friendly’ lubricants.
Is saliva a safe lube?
Nope. Saliva is a handy lube option, especially if your foreplay includes oral sex. But like commercial lubes, saliva inhibits sperm motility. Studies have shown that saliva induces a ‘shaking movement’ in the sperm affecting their motility. So it’s not a good lubricant if you’re trying to get pregnant.
Importance of cervical mucus
While lubricants are helpful, there’s no substitute for nature. Cervical mucus nourishes sperm and helps them move safely through the reproductive tract.
Fertile cervical mucus is wet and slippery, resembling the consistency of egg whites. This provides the perfect protective environment for sperm to swim.
And while personal lubricants can be lifesavers if you’re dealing with vaginal dryness, there are also ways to enhance lubrication naturally.
Natural ways to lubricate
Here are a few tips that may support vaginal lubrication:
But first… foreplay
Many couples rush baby-making sex or see it as a chore, which can affect arousal. So if you want to increase natural lubrication, don’t skip to the main event. Mix in some foreplay and keep it fun, so your body’s ready for sex.
Get your hormones balanced
As mentioned, vaginal dryness is a common symptom of low estrogen. So if you’ve dealt with vaginal dryness for a while, you’ll want to check your hormones. Ask your healthcare provider to test your estrogen to see if it’s in a healthy range.
If you do learn you have low estrogen, don’t worry! There are many natural ways to support estrogen production.
Reducing stress is crucial if you want to increase natural lubrication. Stress interferes with blood flow to the vagina, making it more difficult to get wet. So set aside time for daily relaxation. Do some yoga, meditate, go for a walk, or sip on a cup of tea.
Eat phytoestrogen-rich foods
Eating foods rich in phytoestrogens, such as soy, flax seed, and sesame seeds, may increase your vagina’s lubrication. Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that mimic estrogen’s effects on the body. Research shows phytoestrogens can reduce low estrogen symptoms like vaginal dryness in menopausal women.
Your body needs water to create cervical mucus. So, do your body (and your vagina) a favor and stay well hydrated. Aim to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
Opt for long-term solutions
Fertility lubricants are safe for conception. But they’re not a long-term solution. Vaginal dryness is often a sign of hormonal imbalance, which affects your natural fertility.
If sex is causing you pain or discomfort, talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you address any health issues affecting your vaginal health. In the meantime, if you’re trying to conceive and need help with lubrication, play it safe and opt for fertility lubricants that are FDA-approved.
- Stress, low estrogen, and fertility medications like clomiphene citrate can all reduce vaginal lubrication.
- Lubricant use does not increase or reduce your chances of pregnancy.
- Some lubricant ingredients such as glycerin, propylene glycol, and parabens can affect fertility.
- Fertility-friendly lubricants are tested to ensure they won’t harm sperm or eggs. So if you’re trying to conceive, pick a sperm-friendly lube.
- Avoid medicated lubes unless prescribed by your doctor.
- Checking your hormones can uncover any imbalances that are interfering with lubrication.
- Shifting your lifestyle may support natural lubrication. Reducing stress, staying hydrated, eating phytoestrogen-rich foods, and making time for foreplay can all help.