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Lubrication
Conception May 14, 2020
4 Minutes

Is your lubrication hurting your chances of conception?!

Talking about lubrication is a bit of a weird one. Probably not something you’re super keen to chat to anyone about – even your doctor. The reality is however as many as 25% of couples trying to conceive use it. (2) Understandably really, sometimes conception pressure can be a bit of a buzz kill! The trouble is there is quite a bit of research suggesting that many popular lubricants are damaging the all important sperm motility. Hurting chances of conception. On top of this, research has shone a light on the fact that not only is regulation very lacking. Even worse, packaging in some cases is misleading. So, we take a look at the latest research and what you need to know plus traps to avoid. 

Most lubricants are in fact ‘sperm toxic’ (1) 

Yep. Not something that most of us are probably aware of. Nevertheless a very important factor if you’re using them and trying to conceive. 

Even more problematic is that a lot of this lubricant sperm toxicity is insufficiently reported and there is no real guidance for healthcare professionals either. In fact, one commonly prescribed water-based lubricant: Aquagel was found to reduce sperm progressive motility by nearly 50% after ten minutes, even at a concentration as low as 5%!! (1) 

Turns out: where you are matters: the USA leads the way when it comes to lubricant labelling: 

Different rules and guidance applies in different areas. The US in this case is actually a leading example with the FDA introducing a specific code ‘PEB’ for brands that ‘after sufficient testing are considered “gamete, fertilisation and embryo compatible”. (1) 

The trouble is most other places, including the UK do not require packaging to clearly state the impact a lubricant may have on sperm function or the natural fertility process. 

Most lubrication is actually harmful to sperm: 

Motility is one of the major semen parameters used to assess male fertility, yet in several studies and analyses (1, 2, 3) spanning many decades a number of popular brands (and even saliva (2)) have shown to have a negative effect. 

The mechanism is not entirely clear and may be variable, however looking at research on popular brand K-Y Jelly for example, researchers found it to be ‘detrimental for sperm motility, showing ‘damage to tail membranes’ (1). 

Misleading labels: watch out for this trap: 

Some brands are labelled as ‘non-spermicidal’ which implies they are safe if you’re trying to conceive. The trouble with that label however is that all it means is it is a product that does not contain a spermicidal drug. Once again, many brands labelled this way did still show a negative impact on sperm motility. 

Saliva is also out… 

Alas saliva is also out. With one particular study showing it has a ‘deleterious effect on sperm motility and activity and should not be encouraged for the infertile couple’ (2). 

So what lubrication can you use?! The good news! 

There are a few that actually show no ill effects. Conceive Plus and Pre-Seed are two brands research has identified. As well as Johnson’s Baby Oil (yep!). The interesting thing about these brands is that they typically have a simple composition consisting of mostly purified water and a compound called hydroxyethylcellulose. (3) 

The brands who typically perform badly seem to be composed of principally vegetable gums and fruit extracts. 

Even better, none of the brands appear to impact sperm DNA fragmentation which can be a fast track way to inability to conceive and/or increased chance of miscarriage. So, we can breathe a sigh of relief on that front. Click here for more on what this is and why it matters. 

Conclusion? 

If you’re using lubrication and you’re not based in the US check the ingredients and information of lubrication you’re using very carefully. Look for those that have simple ingredients, purified water and hydroxyethylcellulose. Brands that have tested well include: Conceive Plus and Pre-Seed. Avoid anything with ‘vegetable gums’ and ‘fruit extracts’. Those that scored poorly include KY Jelly and Aquagel. If you’re in the US, it’s pretty easy – the FDA has done the work for you. Look for the code ‘PEB’ as these have been tested and are absolutely safe to use. Good luck!

For more on getting healthy sperm and boosting male fertility – click here for the 10 science backed ways.  

References: 

1) Mackenzie SC, Gellatly S: Vaginal lubricants in the couple trying-to-concieve: Assessing healthcare professional recommendations and effect on in vitro sperm function: PloS ONE: 2019 14(5)

2) Tulandi T, Plouffe L, McInnes RA: Effect of Saliva on sperm motility and activity: Fertility and Sterility: Vol 38 Issue 6 Dec 1982 721-723

3) Mowat A, Newton C, Fleming S: The effects of vaginal lubricants on sperm function: an in vitro analysis.

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This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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