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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Do Lubricants Affect Fertility?

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This week at the store, we hosted a discussion group whose members were interested in learning more about how lubricants affect fertility. For the 15% of U.S. couples who have difficulty conceiving, every little detail related to sex and reproduction—including which type of lube you use—is worth exploring.

Several studies have shown that some popular water-based lubricants, such as K-Y Jelly or Astroglide, negatively affect sperm motility. They stop those wiggly little guys right in their tracks! This appears to be caused by the viscosity of the lubricant (making it difficult for sperm to swim), the pH of the lubricant (too acidic for sperm to survive) and possibly the osmolarity of the lubricant (having either a higher or lower water content than sperm cells and either drawing moisture out of the sperm cells or causing them to absorb excess water—neither good for the longevity of the hapless sperm).

Before I go any further, let me stress that just using lubricant by itself is NOT a good method of contraception. Using spermicide, a chemical that is designed to kill sperm, without any other birth control methods like condoms is only 71% to 85% effective at preventing pregnancy (71% for what's considered "typical use," where someone might not use it exactly right every time, 85% for "perfect use," which very few of us ever achieve). Lubricant is not designed to kill sperm; it's designed to make sex more pleasurable—so its effectiveness rate as a contraceptive is likely to be even lower. However, for people who are dealing with fertility issues, using lubes that do not inhibit sperm motility can make the difference between success and failure.

There are lubricants that are specifically formulated to be sperm-friendly. These lubricants usually have a pH that is friendly to sperm and also do not contain the ingredients glycerin and propylene glycol, the osmolarity of which is toxic to sperm. The most well known is Pre-Seed, which is available at Walgreens and many other drugstores. At the Tool Shed, we carry Yes Baby, which is certified organic and free of parabens (a preservative that can be an irritant and may be linked to cancer), in addition to being glycerin-free and pH-balanced. Before products like these were available, we used to recommend Slippery Stuff to customers, based on testimonies from couples who had used it that it had helped them conceive. It's one of the first glycerin-free lubricants, so there might be something to this, and we still suggest it as an option for people who may not be able to afford Pre-Seed or Yes Baby. It remains one of the best-selling and most affordable lubricants that we stock.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.
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