What to Know About Fertility and Lubricants

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 23, 2022
4 min read

When being intimate, a woman usually becomes naturally lubricated in preparation for sex. This makes intimacy more comfortable and enjoyable. Sometimes it is necessary to use artificial lubricants when natural lubrication is not enough. But if you’re trying to conceive, you may wonder if lubricants can affect your fertility. Many lubricants are safe for sperm, but you’ll want to make sure that you’re not using one that could potentially damage or kill sperm cells.

A lubricant is a liquid or gel that makes things move against one another more smoothly. During intercourse, many people use lubricants to decrease friction and increase pleasure. There are many types of lubricants on the market, some perfectly safe for all kinds of sexual activity and some you should take caution when using:

Water-based lubricants. Water-based lube is inexpensive and can be found in most drug stores or supermarkets. It washes off easily, but it may not last as long as the sex. Couples may need to reapply often to keep moisture going.

Oil-based lubricants. Oil-based lube is also widely available but should be used with caution. It will weaken latex, so it could make latex condoms leak or split. This increases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases or unplanned pregnancy.

Silicone-based lubricants. These generally last longer than water-based lubricants, so they may not need to be applied more than once. However, silicone can irritate women’s genitalia if not immediately cleaned off after sex. Both silicone and water-based lubes sometimes have glycerin as an ingredient, which can cause inflammation and yeast infections. Make sure you check the ingredients label before choosing a product.

Some women may have vaginal dryness because the vagina does not produce enough lubrication when having sex. This can cause discomfort, pain, and even damage to the delicate lining of the vagina, resulting in infection. Dryness can occur when the levels of estrogen in the body drop during menopause or aging. Breastfeeding, taking certain medications, or undergoing chemotherapy can also affect a woman’s ability to produce natural lubrication.

Couples who are trying hard to conceive can develop stress and anxiety, which also causes vaginal dryness to develop. These couples would benefit from vaginal lubricants that don’t make conception more difficult.

Many commercially available lubricants can be damaging to sperm. This is significant for fertility because it decreases the ability of sperm cells to travel through the cervix to the fallopian tube and the waiting egg. Current regulations do not require that lubricant packaging specify how it does or doesn’t affect sperm, but the FDA does allow manufacturers to certify their lubricants as fertility-safe. For women who are trying to conceive, it’s important to specifically seek out these types of lubricants.

Several studies over the last fifty years have shown most commercial lubricants to have detrimental effects on the function of sperm. Lubricants affect sperm by decreasing their vitality and motility, which refers to their ability to move properly through the female reproductive tract.

The best way to know that your lube of choice will not negatively affect sperm while trying to conceive is to choose one that is an FDA-certified fertility lubricant. Fertility lubricants are screened for sperm safety both when in production and consistently through their shelf life. Part of this screening is to find endotoxins, which are produced by bacteria that may be in the lubricant and will possibly damage sperm and eggs.

When choosing a lubricant that is both good for conception and provides pleasurable results, you should avoid:

  • Confusing non-spermicidal lube with FDA-cleared fertility lube
  • Using lubricants that have a low pH
  • Believing that organic or “natural” lubes are necessarily safe for sperm and eggs
  • Using a lube that contains chemicals like glycerol or parabens 
  • Using common household oils 

Medical providers can give advice on which lubricants will be best for you when trying to conceive. Avoid non-FDA-cleared lube when trying to get pregnant unless your doctor recommends it for sexual dysfunction or other issues. Some lubricants on the market are classified specifically as gamete-compatible, fertilization-compatible, and embryo-compatible lubricants, and these would be an ideal choice.

When using a lubricant while trying to conceive, you do not want a product that damages sperm function or hinders fertilization. In the past, it was difficult for couples to find suitable lubricants based on labels alone, but the FDA now has a special classification, PEB, for fertility-friendly lubricants. They are extensively tested for effects on conception and how safe they are for sperm, eggs, and embryos. Once on the market, manufacturers of lubes classed as safe for fertility are required to constantly test their production batches to verify their safety. 

Unlike other commercially available sex lubricants, fertility lubes are also tested for viscosity, a measure of their consistency or texture, and pH. This assesses their ability to supply a protective environment for sperm to swim through so they can hopefully reach the egg. In studies, Pre-seed and Conceive Plus were two fertility lubricants that were shown by medical providers to be fertility safe, but you can talk to your doctor to see what they recommend.