Lubrication is a very important part of sexual intercourse. It allows easier penetration without uncomfortable friction or irritation. Even though the vagina has natural mechanisms for lubrication, the majority of women need some help, whether it is because you’re in menopause, you’re breastfeeding or simply by being in a dry period of your menstrual cycle.

Problems arise when you’re not only having sex for fun, but also when you’re trying to conceive. The environment in the vagina is acidic and these secretions normally kill sperm. This is why the cervical mucus is being produced just before ovulation. This mucus is an alkaline and its main purpose is to protect the sperm from the aggressive vaginal secretions. Not only that, but the cervical mucus also allows the sperm to swim more easily and reach the egg, as well as providing an ideal environment for sperm to survive for up to five days inside the woman’s body.

The lubricant myth

There is a myth which is circulating amongst people who are trying to conceive saying that lubricants make it easier for sperm to reach the egg. The opposite is true. Artificial lubricants are thick and sticky, slowing the sperm down in the vagina and preventing them from reaching the cervix. These lubricants decrease sperm’s motility and therefore restricting them from traveling freely through the vagina, uterus and fallopian tubes. Sperm that is restrained in the vagina dies before reaching the uterus due to the aggressive acidic environment that can significantly reduce your chances for pregnancy.

Effect of lubricant on sperm

Effects of different lubricants on sperm viability and motility

The graph to the right shows the effect of commercially available lubricants on sperm motility and viability (or in other words, whether sperm is alive and swimming in order to reach the egg). Needless to say, the chances of conceiving whilst using a classic lubricant are very, very low.

Many studies have researched the effect of vaginal lubricants on sperm motility, exploring sperm toxicity of “non-spermicidal” lubricants and ultrasound gels used during ovulation monitoring, as well as comparing the effects of coital lubricants, synthetic and natural oils on sperm motility. There’s at least ten studies that explored the effects of lubricants on sperm and they all agree on two things.

One, that silicon- and water-based lubricants should be avoided if you’re trying to conceive. Two, these studies have proven that there are sperm-friendly options when it comes to lubrication.

Photo credit: Kit4na / Foter / CC BY