Personal lubricants – not so healthy

I came across this feature: Behind the label: K-Y Jelly, while researching organic lubricants for a product review at Jo Divine. It outlines the health and fertility risks of using personal lubricants.

Many of us rely on lubricants for intercourse – for a quickie in the morning, to spice up oral sex, for sensual massage, or during breast-feeding, when women can be a little dry down there. The marketing message is that lubes are fun and will enhance sexual pleasure. They come in various colours, textures, and flavours, and different types suit different sexual acts.

I’ve always been put off by the list of ingredients, as well as the chemical smell and residual ickyness on my fingers and vagina after using them. Going to the bathroom to wash yourself after sex seems to ruin the mood somehow, but many lubes leave you feeling itchy and uncomfortable. Some don’t even list their ingredients, which is a major concern. Some state that the product is for ‘topical use only’, whatever that means. If you’re using lubricant on your genitals your body will ingest it. The genitals are delicate areas, lined with mucous membranes that are easily penetrated so we need to be extra cautious about what we put on them. Research has been carried out to determine the effects of various chemicals on the skin, but not on our nether regions.

The Ecologist report also highlights other concerns, which aren’t so well publicized – the risk to fertility through the use of personal lubricants. Studies have found that some lubricants are harmful to sperm, reducing their ability to move through cervical mucous. They also alter the normal pH of the vagina and cervical mucous to a level, which isn’t favourable for sperm survival.

Given that most of us reach for a bottle of lube during foreplay I think it’s important to raise awareness about this. Couples who are trying for a baby need to know this information, as it may affect their ability to conceive. European research has shown the sperm counts have been falling over the past 20-30 years and that more couples are asking for fertility treatment. It’s thought that the chemicals we encounter in every day life could be responsible for this. We can’t control everything in our environment but we can control what we put on our genitals.

Yes® is an organic lubricant that I highly recommend. The company makes two lovely products – a water-based and an oil-based lubricant, which are 96% organic and certified by the Soil Association. They feel sensual and velvety to use, have a light scent and do the job very well. I like the simplicity.

Looking at the ingredients list on a couple of other brands of lubes I’ve got in the house, the following are listed, along with their effects: –

• Glycerin – makes skin dry, is a sugar so can cause thrush outbreaks. It can be toxic to sperm.
• Propylene Glycol – disrupts cell walls, pulls chemicals into the bloodstream and can cause sperm damage.
• Parabens – preservatives that mimic the role of oestrogen, and have been linked to breast cancer. Also a skin irritant.
• Dimethicone – silicone emollients that coat the skin meaning it can’t breathe properly.

Phthalates and Sex Toys

There are also health concerns over the use of Phthalates in various products and cheap sex toys. These are plasticizing chemicals that make sex toys pliable and soft. They have been banned from children’s toys and Greenpeace has been campaigning to have them removed from sex toys. They mimic the hormone oestrogen and have been linked to low sperm counts and male reproductive disorders in utero. Here’s some more information on phthalates.

The good news is that the EU has passed a piece of legislation called Reach, which means that the chemical industry now has to regulate and test any chemicals used in EU products for safety.


ChemTrust – Chemicals, Health & Environment Monitoring Trust.

The British Fertility Society

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