It’s the time you are ovulating and you are just about to “do it” but realize that you are a little dry so reach for the regular lube you have been using for a little help.
You might want to read onward to understand more about lube and fertility.
It’s common knowledge that what you put inside your body affects your health. Many of us are reaching for organic foods, plenty of vegetables, clean water (is there such a thing?) and have been told to pay attention to toxins in our cleaning products.
But what about the products we put into our vaginas and on our vulvas? Do we know what is in them? Wendy Strgar, founder of the lube company, Good Clean Love, points out that some lubricants contain petrochemicals that can be found in brake fluid and antifreeze. Petrochemicals not only kill sperm but can also harm or irritate the vaginal flora.
Chemicals easily penetrate into our skin, the largest organ in the body. The most absorbent areas are the mucous membranes of our mouth, eyes, intestines, vagina, vulva, rectum, and tip of the penis, which can rapidly absorb chemicals without metabolizing them. This is the first reason to choose personal lubricants or “lubes” that are safe. The second reason is that a whole ecology of healthy bacteria (called the microbiome) live in our private areas. So introducing substances in these highly sensitive areas can make us susceptible to irritation and infection and in some cases, can even decrease fertility.
Let’s start with some facts. There are three kinds of personal lubricants: water-soluble, oil-based and silicone lube.
Water-soluble lubes are the most common lubes on the market because they don’t break down latex condoms. But if you’re trying to get pregnant, these lubes could be working against you. Check labels for additives and preservatives such as glycerin and parabens. Glycerin can damage sperm and create an imbalance in flora, which can make you more prone to bacterial infections (1). Glycerin also has a high osmolality. This is a strange term for the ability of a cell to shrink or swell like a sponge. Sperm are sensitive to both high and low osmolality. Sperm can have an osmolality of 260-380 mOsm/kg. But apparently, most lubes have 3-4 times that of semen (hyperosmolality), which can cause irreversible damage to sperm and is bad for vaginal tissue. When a lube has hyperosmolality, it pulls fluids out of the tissues, which can leave your vagina feeling irritated and dry and more susceptible to tearing. For reference, according to a study published in Pharmaceutics called “Characterization of Commercially Available Vaginal Lubricants: A Safety Perspective” (4), KY Jelly has an osmolality of 3,631 – way too high for both sperm and vaginal tissues.
In contrast, when a lube has hypo-osmolality, it pulls moisture into the tissues, which if used too much can cause cells to burst.
Look for iso-tonic lube – meaning that there is the same concentration of fluids both inside and outside of tissues. The osmolality of vaginal mucus can range from 240-280 mOsm/kg, says Sarah Brooke, partner and founder of the company Yesyesyes.org. They make all kinds of lube, including lube for fertility (awaiting FDA approval). Sperm-friendly water-based lubricants have an osmolality of about 300 mOsm/kg.
Another area of concern in water-based lubes are parabens, a group of compounds used as preservatives in some lubricants, including a few fertile-friendly ones. Parabens are known endocrine disruptors and have been found in high concentrations in breast tumors[NR1]. Even though the FDA is OK with parabens, I for one, want only natural products in me.
Natural, vegetable oils can be good options, including almond, jojoba and coconut oil. But remember, oil can break down latex condoms. Oils to stay away from include mineral oil, baby oil and Vaseline, since they all are petroleum based. According to a study published in J Womens Health (Larchmt2011)(2):
“There is strong evidence that mineral oil hydrocarbons are the greatest contaminant of the human body, amounting to approximately 1 g per person. Possible routes of contamination include air inhalation, food intake, and dermal absorption.”
That’s reason enough not to put mineral oil up your va-jay-jay!
Silicone lubes do not contain water and make everything more slippery. They are more expensive, last longer and have a different feel than water-based lubes. They also do not penetrate mucous membranes. Silicone lubes can break down some silicone toys so it may be better to use water or oil-based lubes with them. I couldn’t find any studies on silicone’s effect on sperm, however, most sperm-friendly lubes are water-based.
How lube affects the fertile woman
The PH of the vagina before ovulation should be more acidic, about 4.4 or less. One reason for this is so women will not be susceptible to infection. Remember the vagina is self-cleaning. Bad Bacteria don’t like to live in acidic areas. But when a woman is ovulating, her fertile cervical mucus makes the vagina more alkaline – a PH greater than 7. The good news is sperm can live in that PH. So, if you are trying to conceive, and are using lube, you want to make sure it is sperm-friendly. There are theories that say it may not matter the type of lube used when trying to conceive because sperm are deposited at the top of the vagina near the cervix where probably no lubrication is present. That being said, there are no downsides to using a sperm-friendly lube if you need it.
The FDA has now created a new classification for lubricants approved for couples trying to conceive. These lubes must be clinically proven compatible with sperm and embryos and the process of fertilization. A key aspect of these lubricants is that they must meet specific standards for pH (7) and iso-osmolality/isotonicity (300 mOsmo/kg) and they must not negatively impact sperm function. Due to the high pH, these lubricants should only be used in the fertile window. The rest of the time, the vagina needs to be acidic.
When I interviewed Ethan Lynette of Fairhaven, who distributes Babydance, he said:
“Generally speaking, we think it’s fair to say that organic is good. But, it’s important to also keep in mind that organic products that contain high levels of endotoxins or cause irritation are not ideal, and worse yet may have significant drawbacks, especially when it comes to fertility. It is our position that FDA clearance in the PEB category is a customer’s best assurance that a lubricant is safe for use when trying to conceive.”
For a more detailed description of common lubricants, their PH and osmolality (including organic ones), check out this study: “Treating vulvovaginal atrophy/genitourinary syndrome of menopause: how important is a vaginal lubricant and moisturizer composition?” (Climacteric) (5).
Right now, the only sperm-friendly lubes approved by the FDA are: BabyDance, ConceivePlus and Pre-Seed, the latter two both contain parabens as a preservative.
What I recommend:
If you are trying to conceive, hopefully, you make enough fertile mucus on your own, but if you need lubrication, first stay away from synthetic lubricants. Try using a vegetable-based oil like coconut (my favorite) or jojoba oil. One can use rose oil diluted in a carrier oil like jojoba or coconut oil. The smell is fabulous too.
Otherwise, you can try sperm-friendly Babydance and/or the fertile-friendly organic lube by yesyesyes.org (hopefully will come out soon).
And remember, many women can produce their own vaginal lubrication if given enough foreplay. If you are among those who have vaginal dryness, a personal lubricant can make all the difference. Just be sure to read what is in the ingredients. Knowledge is power.
There are a lot of supplements that one can use to help increase your own vaginal lubrication. Stay tuned for my upcoming post on lubrication
Health Perspect.2014 Mar;122(3):A70-5. doi: 10.1289/ehp.122-A70
A question for women’s health: chemicals in feminine hygiene products and personal lubricants.
Womens Health (Larchmt).2011 Nov;20(11):1713-9. doi:
10.1089/jwh.2011.2829. Epub 2011 Oct 4. Evidence for cosmetics as a source of mineral oil contamination in women.
2014 Sep; 6(3): 530–542.
Published online 2014 Sep 22. doi: 10.3390/pharmaceutics6030530Characterization of Commercially Available Vaginal Lubricants: A Safety Perspective,
(5) Climacteric. 2016 Mar 3; 19(2): 151–161 Treating vulvovaginal atrophy/genitourinary syndrome of menopause: how important is vaginal lubricant and moisturizer composition? Published online 2015 Dec 26. doi: 10.3109/13697137.2015.1124259Share