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May 26, 2021

Can lube affect sperm health or fertility?

Many couples use personal lubricant to improve the experience of having sex while trying to conceive—since they’re likely having sex more frequently and on a schedule, to boot. Research shows that 26% of couples often or always use lube when they’re trying to get pregnant.

But should you use lubricant while trying to get pregnant or get your partner pregnant? Your average drugstore lube, like KY Jelly or Astroglide, may be having more of a negative effect on your chances of conception than you’d expect. Here’s the research around lube and male fertility, and our guidance to help you choose a lube that won’t affect your sperm health.

Does lube kill sperm?

Unless it’s specifically spermicidal, lubricant is not a reliable contraceptive, and will not necessarily prevent pregnancy. It’s always possible that unprotected sex could result in pregnancy, and even spermicidal lube is only 70–80% effective as a sole contraceptive.

But studies show that lube may significantly alter sperm’s ability to swim, and this may be especially important for those who already have low sperm motility or low sperm count.

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How does lube affect sperm?

Extensive lab studies have concluded that most commercially available lubes—as well as some commonly used oils and even saliva—have a negative impact on sperm motility, or how sperm move. Motility is important because a sperm’s movement is what propels it through the female reproductive system. If your sperm isn’t moving, it won’t be able to reach your partner’s egg for fertilization.

Even some lubes that are marketed as “sperm-friendly” or “fertility friendly” have been shown to affect sperm motility. Some lubes have also been shown to affect sperm vitality and genetic health.

Here’s an overview of the research on how common lubricants affect fertility.

Does K-Y Jelly kill sperm?

K-Y Jelly is one of the most commonly used personal lubricants, even among couples who are trying to conceive. However, K-Y Jelly is not sperm-friendly. Water-based lubricants like K-Y Jelly, in general, are some of the least fertility friendly lube choices.

In multiple studies, K-Y Jelly significantly decreased sperm motility. In one, combining semen with K-Y Jelly decreased sperm motility by 74% after 30 minutes. Another found that 80% of samples combined with K-Y Jelly had no viable or motile sperm, and the remaining 20% had just 5% motility. In a third, researchers found that motility plummeted to zero percent after just 10 minutes in contact with K-Y Jelly.

Another study had similar results — sperm motility dropped dramatically after 5 minutes contact with K-Y Jelly in the Warming, Tingling, and Sensitive varieties. (Interestingly, K-Y Tingling had, by far, the most detrimental effect on sperm health of any of the lubricants tested in this study.)

K-Y Jelly may also impact sperm’s genetic health. One study concluded that K-Y Jelly increased sperm DNA fragmentation by 10% over the control. However, another study looking at the impact of lube on sperm DNA fragmentation did not find a significant increase in sperm combined with K-Y Jelly.

Does Astroglide affect sperm health?

Another water-based lube, Astroglide seems to be nearly as harmful to sperm as K-Y Jelly. In one study comparing the two lubricants, researchers found both impaired sperm motility, and recommended that those who are trying to conceive avoid using any commercial lubes. In another, Astroglide performed better than K-Y Jelly, but still reduced progressive sperm motility by 40% after 5 minutes.

After 30 minutes of contact with Astroglide, only 2% of sperm were motile, according to one study. Additional research reflected the same: sperm combined with Astroglide was “non-motile” and “non-viable” (in other words, dead) after 60 minutes.

Does Replens lube affect fertility?

Replens is a silicone-based lubricant. Silicone-based lubes are slightly more sperm-friendly than water-based, but have also been shown to impair sperm motility after prolonged contact.

Research on the impact of Replens on fertility demonstrates that impairment. In one study, Replens decreased sperm motility by 60% after 30 minutes of incubation. In another, Replens performed comparably to nonoxynol-9 — a spermicide — with a highly detrimental effect on sperm health after 60 minutes.

How do other commercial lubes affect sperm?

Other less commonly used lubes have fewer robust studies, but the research available suggests the majority of water- and silicone-based lubricants on the market have a detrimental effect on sperm.

  • FemGlide personal lubricant has been shown to cause a significant decrease in sperm motility, as well as an increase in the percentage of sperm with DNA damage.
  • Aquagel lube has been shown to reduce sperm motility by about half after 10 minutes of exposure to semen.
  • Sylk lubricant was found to significantly reduce the number of live sperm in the semen sample, as well as sperm motility.

What about “non-traditional” lubricants like baby oil or kitchen oils?

Oils are less commonly used as lubricant because they can degrade condoms (not an issue for couples who are trying to conceive) and are more likely to irritate the vagina. However, in general, oils such as baby oil and canola oil, seem to have the least detrimental effect on sperm health.

We have more extensive research on baby oil than other oils. In one study, baby oil had a small initial impact on sperm total motility and progressive motility, but did not appear to further reduce motility after prolonged contact; overall decrease was less than 30%. This was confirmed by another study that found baby oil was significantly safer for sperm than most drugstore lubes, decreasing motility by less than 20%. In a third study, baby oil was found to have no significant impact on sperm motility at all

Other oils have more mixed results, and more limited research.

  • In one study, olive oil reduced sperm motility by 42% after 15 minutes of exposure.
  • One study demonstrated that canola oil’s impact on sperm was very slight (a reduction of just 6% in motility), while another concluded it had no detrimental effects on sperm.
  • Sesame oil appeared to reduce sperm motility by about 30% after just 5 minutes.
  • Mustard oil did not seem to impair sperm motility, but it did cause sperm to act a little strangely in one study: On contact with this oil, they became “hyperactivated” — a state they usually only reach when they’re approaching the egg — in the lab.

Can I use saliva as a sperm-friendly lubricant?

Studies are limited, but saliva has been shown to have an even more dramatic effect on sperm than commercial lubes. This may be surprising, since saliva is “natural” and it’s made from our own bodily fluids. And prior to most research into lube’s affect on fertility, saliva was actually recommended as a lubricant for infertile couples.

However, later research altered this recommendation. In one study, saliva was found to decrease sperm motility to near zero percent after 15 minutes of exposure. In another, researchers concluded that “saliva has a deleterious effect on sperm motility and activity and should not be encouraged as a vaginal lubricant for the infertile couple.”

How does lube affect fertility in the real world?

The studies reviewed above examine the impact of lube on sperm health in vitro, meaning in the lab. Research of real-life lube use has had different results.

One study of 300 women found that participants who used lube occasionally or frequently were no less likely to become pregnant than those who never used lube. Another study of 6,000 “pregnancy planners” found that fertility rates were not decreased for lube users, and that use of lubricants did not seem to impact time to pregnancy.

Will using lube actually reduce your chances of getting pregnant or getting your partner pregnant? Maybe not — unless you are already dealing with low sperm motility or low sperm count. But you may want to consider a lubricant that’s sperm-safe.

What about “fertility friendly lube”?

Is there a type of lube that can help you get pregnant or get your partner pregnant? Not necessarily. When choosing lube for conception, it’s more of a matter of picking the least detrimental option.

What makes a lube safe for male fertility? It should be free from ingredients that are known to harm sperm, like silicone or petroleum. The pH of the lube matters, as well — the best lubricants for sperm health match the pH of semen and cervical fluid (approximately 7, or neutral).

Not every lube that’s marketed as “fertility friendly” is supported by science. One study found that Forelife’s “Sperm-Safe” product actually had a more detrimental effect on sperm than K-Y Jelly. In fact, the only lube that has a scientific basis for calling itself “fertility friendly” is Pre-Seed.

Some believe that Pre-Seed helps sperm swim faster. One study suggests that may be true, with progressive motility actually increasing slightly after 60 minutes of contact with Pre-Seed. But most evidence — 1, 2, 3, — demonstrates that Pre-Seed simply has an insignificant impact on sperm motility, vitalitty, and genetic health. Pre-Seed is currently the best choice for those who are trying to conceive.

Should I use lube when I’m producing a semen sample for testing for freezing?

No. Because lube and saliva have both been shown to significantly negatively affect sperm motility — see the research above — you should not use any kind of external aid when you’re producing a sample for semen analysis or sperm freezing.

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