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Do vaginal lubricants impact fertility?

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
fertility, vaginal luricants, sperm motility, vaginal dryness

Studies have reported the over-the-counter vaginal lubricants impact sperm motility in a laboratory setting (in vitro). A new study by researchers affiliated with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville revisited this issue. They evaluated the impact on fertility in human couples (in vivo). They published their findings in the July 2012 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The authors note that vaginal lubricants intended for use during sexual activity are readily available for purchase through drugstores, large retail chains, and the Internet. It is estimated that in the US 62% of women have used a lubricant during sexual activities and 25.3% have used a lubricant during the previous month. They note that the incidence of vaginal dryness has been reported to be higher among couples trying to conceive; an estimated 26% of couples will use lubricants while trying to conceive.

A number of studies have reported that commonly used vaginal lubricants such as Astroglide, KY Jelly, and Replens at a variety of concentrations have been shown to negatively affect sperm motility in vitro. The authors note, however, that the concentration of lubricant in ejaculate deposited at the top of the vagina during intercourse is unknown. Therefore, the authors designed a study to assess the impact on fertility of vaginal lubricants during procreative intercourse.

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Women aged 30–44 years with no history of infertility who had been trying to conceive for less than three months were recruited for the study. The women completed a baseline questionnaire on vaginal lubricant use; they subsequently kept a diary to record menstrual bleeding, intercourse, and vaginal lubricant use. They were tested monthly for pregnancy for up to six months. Diary data were used to determine the window of fertility as well as lubricant use during the fertile window.

The study group was comprised of 296 participants; among this group, 75 (25%) stated in their baseline questionnaire that they used a vaginal lubricants while attempting to conceive. Based on daily diary data, 57% of women never used a lubricant, 29% occasionally used a lubricant, and 14% used a lubricant frequently. Women who used lubricants during the fertile window were found to have similar fecundability to those women who did not use lubricants after adjusting for age, partner race, and intercourse frequency in the fertile window.

The authors concluded that lubricants are commonly used by couples during procreative intercourse. Based on their study results, lubricant use during procreative intercourse does not appear to reduce the probability of conceiving.

Take home message:
This study is reassuring for couples who use vaginal lubricants and are trying to conceive. However, contact with lubricants has been reported to impact sperm motility. If couples who use lubricants experience difficulty in conceiving, it might be worthwhile to limit contact between the lubricant and sperm. Applying lubricant only to the clitoral area and engaging in foreplay can result in the production of natural lubrication.

Reference: Obstetrics & Gynecology