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Fertility Lube: understanding your options

Photo by Deon Black on Unsplash

For loads of people, lube is a regular part of their sexual routines, whether they’re trying to conceive or not. But if you’re actively trying to get pregnant, there are a few extra incentives to using lube. 

You might, for example, be attempting assisted or home insemination, in which case lube can make the insertion of devices (e.g. collection cups or syringes) more comfortable; or it may be that the stress of having sex on a schedule leads to a lack of natural lubrication. People taking certain medications, such as the fertility medication Clomid (clomiphene citrate), might also experience increased vaginal dryness as a side effect of the drugs.

While lots of people trying to conceive use whatever lube they have on hand, some people are particularly curious about bespoke “fertility-friendly” lubricants.

Unfortunately, as with so many other lube-related topics, the issue of lube’s fertility-friendliness is hardly straightforward. I’ve done my best here to make sense of the various perspectives and link to helpful resources.

But first, it’s important to say that, while some lubes can potentially harm sperm, lube should NEVER be used for contraception (i.e. to prevent pregnancy). Lube is not a form of birth control. 

Is fertility-friendly lube really necessary?

“Fertility-friendly” lube was created on the basis of legit scientific evidence that determined certain lubes were harmful to sperm (see "The science" section below). And, of course, the companies that make fertility lubricants are very invested in telling people how essential their products are. But despite what the lab experiments and these companies say, the fact is that lots of people still manage to conceive with any ol’ lube or with no lube at all (see this study).

That said, if you’re stressing out about using "the wrong lube" while trying to get pregnant, then the peace of mind that a “fertility-friendly” lube might give you could actually be worth it (since adding stressors to your life isn't exactly optimal for conceiving). For people who’ve experienced fertility challenges, it can be especially helpful to have the extra assurance of an official certification.

So is fertility-friendly lube really necessary? The not-so-satisfying answer is: maybe or maybe not!

Certification requirements

For a lube to be officially labeled “fertility-friendly” in the USA, it needs to be certified by the FDA under a category called “PEB”, which was created in 2017 specifically for lubricants that are safe to use when trying to conceive. Here are the basic guidelines for this category:

The science

While there’s not much scientific research about sex lubes out there, much of what has been studied has been in relation to fertility (surprise!). Here’s a helpful summary of the various studies (and also a pretty good resource for fertility in general).

Here's what the evidence suggests:

Multiple studies (see Agarwal et al, Anderson et al, Kutteh et al, Mackenzie, Mowat et al, Sandhu et al, Wilson et al) found that certain lubricants harm both sperm motility and vitality.

Here's what you need to about the pH of semen, the vagina, and lube to understand the lab results:

Sperm thrive in a more neutral-to-alkaline environment, which is why semen has a neutral pH of about 7. During the fertile window, the pH of the vagina (which is generally more acidic, usually between 3.8-4.5) gets neutralized by a sperm-protective fertile cervical mucus that facilitates sperm’s movement towards the egg.

If a lubricant is on the acidic side (which many are), it might create an unfavourable environment for the little spermies to survive and thrive in. What’s more, many lubes contain relatively high concentrations of glycerin and/or propylene glycol, which can also damage or kill sperm.

Here's why the science can be confusing:

While the science seems clear enough, this study and this study involved real people trying to conceive and didn't actually confirm the findings of the lab studies. This could be because lab studies generally expose sperm to lubricants for longer and in higher amounts than would generally occur in real-world usage.

If you want to dig deeper into the science, the folks at ro/modernfertility have written a great blog post that offers helpful interpretations of the various studies as well as a good summary of possible explanations for why the data doesn’t map onto people’s actual experiences.

Shopping guide 

Below I've put together a list of certified fertility lubes on the market, as well as some criteria for you to consider if you're shopping for unofficial sperm-friendly options.

Official “fertility-friendly” options:

As of writing this post, there are 6 FDA-approved “fertility-friendly” lubes on the North American market that I’m aware of. Unfortunately, the price of certified fertility lubricants usually runs about double that of most regular lubes.

Ingredients: Purified Water, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Sodium Chloride, Potassium Chloride,     Calcium Chloride, Lactic Acid, Magnesium Chloride, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Sorbic Acid  

Ingredients: Hydroxyethylcellulose, Sodium Chloride, Xantham Gum, Potassium Chloride, Calcium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Sorbic Acid, Lactic Acid

Ingredients: Purifed water, Cetyl hydroxyethylcellulose, Hypromellose, Carbomer     homopolymer type B, Sodium and potassium phosphate, Sodium chloride, Raspberry-derived xylose, Sodium hydroxide, Phenethyl alcohol, Caprylyl glycol, Salvia sclarea)  

Ingredients: Purified Water, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Pluronic, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Phosphate, Carbomer, Methylparaben, Sodium Hydroxide, Arabinogalactan, Potassium Phosphate, Propylparaben

Ingredients: Deionized Water, Hypromellose, Sodium Cloride, Glycerol, Sodium Phosphate, Methylparaben, Potassium Cloride, Magnesium Chloride, Calcium Cloride

Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Propylene Glycol, Hydroxyethylcellulose,     Fructose, Arabinogalactan, Sodium Phosphate, Salt, Potassium Phosphate, Methylparaben, Propylparaben

Some of these lubes have been analyzed in various studies (see Mackenzie et al, Mowat et al, Sandhu et al, Agarwal et al), with Pre-Seed normally coming out on top. However, some of the newer lubes - like BabyDance and BioGenesis - have not yet been the subject of published studies.

Buyer Beware: Some lubes are deceptively marketed as “sperm-safe” in order to cash in on the high demand for fertility lube. One of the most egregious examples of this is Forelife’s “Fertility Care™ Sperm-Safe Personal Lubricant”. One study found this lube to be the least sperm-friendly of all the samples tested. Also, Forelife doesn’t list their lube’s ingredients anywhere on their website or on any of their retailer sites. That’s a big red flag in my books.

Non-certified options:

Some lubes might actually be fairly sperm-friendly but haven’t been properly studied or their manufacturers haven’t taken the costly path of official certification. If you decide to skip the pricier and less widely available FDA-approved options, here are a few tips to keep in mind when shopping for a sperm-friendly lube:

  • PH: Look for lubes with a pH close to 7 (sperm aren’t usually able to swim properly in conditions that are too acidic).

  • Osmolality (concentration level): It should be iso-osmotic (if not bang on 270mOsm/kg, aim for between 200-350mOsm/kg - and if that's not possible, rather go a little lower than higher).

  • Ingredients: It should be free from glycerin, propylene glycol/propanediol, and PEG (these ingredients tend to increase a lube's osmolality).

  • Consistency: It should have a thinner consistency (the cervical mucus becomes thinner and slipperier during the body’s fertile period, so a thinner lube should help with sperm motility).

  • Oil-based: Certain oils, such as Canola, scored better in some lab tests (see this study and this study), but keep in mind that the quality of oils matters and you'll want to avoid oils that are contaminated or rancid. Also, while a few studies found baby oils to be relatively safe, this study cautions against using mineral oil when trying to conceive.

  • Silicone-based: Not much research has been done around silicone-based lube and fertility, but this one study suggested that it only slowed sperm motility to any significant extent after 60 minutes of exposure.

  • Contact the manufacturer: Some companies have actually done independent lab tests on sperm-friendliness. For example, I reached out to the folks at YES (who have recently discontinued their official fertility-friendly lube, YES BABY) and they told me that both YES WB (water-based, pH 4) and YES OB (plant-oil based) have undergone testing by an independent lab looking at whether they caused sperm immobilisation or non-progressive movement up to eight hours after exposure. Results determined that neither of these products had negative effects on sperm motility, suggesting that they shouldn’t hinder chances of conception.

Get in touch

If you'd like to share your fertility lube stories with me*, such as lube that you used while trying to conceive or any other helpful lube tips, I'd be happy to hear them! You can email me at hello[at] or use the contact form on the homepage.

*Please keep in mind that I may share your tips so that your knowledge and experiences can benefit others, but I'll always keep your personal information (including your name, email, and any identifying information) confidential and will fully anonymize your stories, comments, or questions before sharing.


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