Lube Doesn't Kill Sperm, But It Can Slow It Down

Photographed by Megan Madden.
When someone is trying to get pregnant (from penis-in-vagina sex, at least), they often do everything they can to help their partner's sperm reach their egg — whether or not the advice they're following is totally accurate. There are so many myths about what can and can't help someone get pregnant — orgasms can be helpful, but sex positions don't really matter — and some of them definitely sound more true than others. But what about the idea that lube "kills" sperm? It may sound far-fetched, but that myth is actually built on a kernel of truth.
The lube and sperm myth exists on many different all-natural blogs and pregnancy forums. People come to these resources asking whether or not lube can inhibit the baby-making process. And the answer they often get is maybe. Experts generally cite two major studies when answering this question: One from in-vitro laboratory tests that shows lube can be "toxic" to sperm, says Jennifer Johnsen senior director of digital properties at Power To Decide. And one from a test in real human couples that showed no correlation between using lube and getting pregnant.
Science tells us that lube might affect the "motility" of sperm, meaning how quickly and how well it moves, says Ana Cepin, MD, an assistant professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center. But it certainly doesn't "kill" it. "There are some birth control foams and jellies that are spermicidal," she says. "So those do kill sperm, but regular lube does not."
That means that if you're trying to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, lube cannot replace your contraceptives (so yes, you still have to use condoms, birth control or both). "Lube is definitely not an effective method for contraception," Dr. Cepin says. But, if you're actively trying to get pregnant, lube probably isn't going to hurt your chances, either. Still, some people can feel more at ease if they're trying everything possible to up their chances of conceiving. If you're one of those people, there's no harm in forgoing lube altogether or using a lubricant that was specifically designed with conception in mind (something like this one).
But you should still keep your sexual comfort in mind if you plan to get rid of the lube. "Folks who choose not to use lube may want to spend more time on foreplay," Johnsen says. Because if you're ditching the lube, plenty of natural lubrication can be helpful — slippery sex is almost always best.

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series