Best Lubricant When Trying to Conceive: Are Fertility-Friendly Lubes Legit?

 When you are trying to conceive (ttc) you start to question everything, and one of those questions is often whether or not you can or should be using a lubricant.  

Within the ttc community, you’ll hear so much talk regarding whether or not the type of lubricant you’re using can affect your chances of getting pregnant. 

Sure, lube does wonders to ease penetration for a more enjoyable time in the bedroom, but does being fertility-friendly have an impact on conception speed? Is being marketed as “fertility-friendly” just a way to drive more sales, or is there science behind it?

In this article, we’ll explore what fertility-friendly lubricants are, their ingredients, and discuss a few scientific studies on their role in conception. 

What Are Fertility-Friendly Lubricants?

According to the FDA, fertility-friendly lubricants, introduced to the market in 2017, refer to a class of lubes that are thoroughly tested and deemed to have no harmful effects on sperm, eggs, or the fertilisation process as a whole.

Another way to describe this type of lubricant, as per the FDA, is that it is “gamete, fertilisation, and embryo compatible.”

The FDA came to this conclusion after vigorous in-vitro and in-vivo testing (experiments in a lab outside a living organism vs. testing the lube on living things like mice and rabbits). 

That’s why many people in the TTC community feel compelled to replace their ordinary lubricants with fertility-friendly ones.

However, does that mean that standard personal lubes can hinder your progress when trying to conceive? This is very much dependent on what they contain, so let's explore the ingredients of fertility friendly lubricants in more detail. 

What Are the Characteristics of Fertility-Friendly Lubricants?

While all lubricants labelled as fertility friendly share the common characteristic of not affecting sperm eggs and fertilisation, there is no single miraculous ingredient that defines a lube as fertility-friendly or ‘’sperm safe’’.  There is considerable variation in the ingredients and characteristics of lubes in this category so it's important to do your research when selecting one. Here are our top 4 things to look for.  

Paraben-Free

First off, it’s best to ditch any lubricant that doesn’t have a paraben-free certification. Usually, it’ll be easy to tell whether or not a product contains parabens; just look for these names in the ingredients:

  • Propylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Methylparaben

Parabens belong to a class of chemical compounds known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals since they affect your hormones. According to a BMC study, continuous exposure to parabens may have adverse effects on ovarian reserves, which might influence fertility.

pH Level of 7.0

Next, we advise you to look for fertility-friendly lubricants with a pH level of around 7.0  The vagina’s normal pH is acidic, somewhere between 4.0 and 4.5, but, with the presence of semen or during sexual arousal, the vagina has a semi-neutral pH level of 7.0 to 8.5.

Sperm prefer pH levels of 7.0 so your best shot at keeping them happy is to go with a lube brand that explicitly markets its product as having a pH level of 7.0.

It doesn’t mean that not fulfilling this requirement will straight out kill the sperm on contact; it’s not contraception! It’s just important to know that a much lower pH level can affect the survival rates of sperm in the vagina.

Glycerin-Free

Consider using a glycerin-free lubricant - also known as glycerol, glycerine is a naturally occurring plant based compound that can make the osmolality of lubricants too high  so to make sure that the sperm aren’t facing additional mobility challenges we suggest you go glycerin-free with your choice of lube.. 

As this study posted on ScienceDirect has confirmed, a glycerol percentage as low as 2% could impair the movement and progression of sperm.

Don’t forget that glycerin residue left in the vagina will be later broken down into sugar too. As a result, it makes the vagina more prone to a fungus that causes yeast infections. No thanks.

Iso-Osmotic

Finally, check the osmolality of the lubricant you intend to use (only works for water-based products) and make sure it matches the value present in the vagina. 

For reference, the natural osmolality of the vagina is around 270 mOsm/Kg. If your lube of choice goes way above that number, its use could lead to epithelial damage, by which we mean damage to the cells in the inner lining of the vagina, which could lead to an increase in susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections.

Are Fertility-Friendly Lubricants Better Than Personal Lubes When Trying to Conceive?

Admittedly, all types of lube are manufactured for use in sensitive areas, which guarantees a certain degree of safety. Yet, when it comes to the fertility-friendly lube vs. typical lube debate, what’s the right answer?

What we can tell you is that fertility-friendly lubes are the best and safest choice when you’re trying to conceive. The reason is that they’ve already presented the FDA with sufficient data on their effects, or lack thereof, on eggs, sperm, and the fertilisation process. Other types of personal lube don’t have that advantage, as they haven’t given the FDA evidence of having no harmful effects on fertilisation. 

Now, the FDA is a US regulator, so fertility-friendly lubricants sold in the UK do not need FDA approval, but it is advisable to look for those which have been given this seal of approval or failing that look for brands who state that it has been clinically proven to have no harmful effects on sperm, eggs or the fertilisation process. And always make sure that they are paraben free, glycerin free, pH neutral and with an osmolality of 270mOsm/Kg.

Can fertility-friendly lubes increase my chances of conception? 

In order to answer this factually we need to look at the following in-vitro and in-vivo test results to understand whether or not using these lubes can impact your chances of becoming pregnant.

Just keep in mind that all the studies were only conducted on sperm samples. Lubes don’t make it far enough down the female reproductive system to reach eggs so scientists saw no point in including the eggs in their research. 

In-Vitro Testing

Many in-vitro tests have been carried out on lubes to identify their effects on sperm motility, sperm vitality, and DNA fragmentation. 

One significant study took place in 2014 when a team of Australian researchers collected semen samples from a group of ten men. Then, they took turns testing 11 lubricant brands on the sperm.

They used various types of lubricant in this experiment, including two brands that were labelled as fertility-friendly by the FDA. Their findings were pretty interesting:

First, regarding the survival rate of sperm, the scientists found that the two FDA-approved fertility-friendly lubricants boasted the highest vitality rate, namely 70% and 90%. On the contrary, the rest of the lubes showed much lower survival rate percentages—from a disappointing 27% to 65%.

Second of all, when looking at sperm motility results, the researchers marked eight lubes out of eleven as ‘’good’’. Yet, again, you’ll be delighted to know that fertility-friendly options were associated with the highest sperm motility.

Third and last, all lubricants gave similar results concerning DNA damage, which was insignificant.

In-Vivo Testing

Unfortunately, we’re yet to find a controlled in-vivo study on the relationship between sperm health and lubricant classification. The next best thing you can use in a comparison is some real-life examples of actual people who used different lube types to see if there’s a pattern.

One study that we can only describe as “good enough” was published in 2018, and it involved 6,400 women in the US and Denmark.

The authors followed the progress of these women who were trying to conceive for an entire year after they asked them if they used water-based, oil-based, silicone-based, or pH-balanced lubes. Some didn’t even use lubricant at all.

However, there was no mention of FDA-approved fertility-friendly lubricants being used in the study, which makes this study severely lacking when reviewing the efficacy of fertility-friendly lubricants, as it was only based on lubricants assumed to be fertility-friendly. Here’s what the researchers found:

There was no difference in conception speed between women who used what the scholars thought of as fertility-friendly lubes and other lubricant types. Those who went with the former didn’t get pregnant faster, nor did women who used the latter conceive at lower rates.

Explaining In-Vitro vs. In-Vivo Test Findings

This difference in results between in-vivo and in-vitro testing on sperm survival and conception rates, we appreciate, is confusing. Why are they so different from each other? 

Well, you can theorise that real life tests weren’t controlled and didn’t consider other variables that affect conception. These include health conditions, intercourse timing and frequency, nutrition, etc. As a result, we can’t 100% get behind them as a definitive source of data.

Plus, there’s a chance that sperm doesn’t come into direct contact with lube during intercourse since lubricants usually stick to the lower walls of the vagina and external genitals. 

Also, don’t forget that sperm are pretty fast swimmers. So, the time they’re exposed to the harmful substances in lubricants is meagre compared to their exposure in a lab. In some lab studies they were exposed for up to 5 minutes and others 24 hours! Which is much longer than in real life scenarios.  

Finally it could be argued that using lubricants is more pleasurable for couples leading to them having sex more frequently resulting in a quid pro quo of sorts regarding chances of conception. 

Takeaways from the best lube when ttc: 

After giving you all sides of the story, here’s our conclusion:

  • Fertility lubes that are approved by the FDA cannot improve your chances of pregnancy; they merely help to create a more conducive environment for sperm to move in.
  • To get the best lubricant when trying to conceive, we encourage you to go for products with a balanced pH value, no parabens, no glycerol, and suitable osmolality.
  • But does this mean that regular personal lubricants are a no-no? Based on in-vitro testing, these lubricants might have adverse effects on sperm health, but we still need more studies to back up this claim. 

Our opinion? Using regular lube sparingly may be okay, but a fertility-friendly option offers a more ideal environment for sperm so why take the risk.

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