I can only hope you've realized the magic of lube by now. At least 65 percent of us use lube for all kinds of reasons, and lube has nothing to do with sexual laziness or an ability to perform. Most sex experts recommend the use of lube when things are getting heated, and many of us swear by it — and that's great. You may be getting yourself into trouble, however, if you're not careful about the safety of the ingredients in the lube you're bringing into the bedroom (or any other room of the house you like to get busy in).
Bustle spoke with Wendy Strgar, sex educator, author, and award-winning entrepreneur, who warns women against reaching for any old lube at the drugstore. She says many unnatural lubes contain dangerous chemicals that lead to complications like bacterial vaginosis. "Most women are not aware of the incompatibility of heavily-concentrated petrochemical ingredients in most intimacy products with their own biology," she says.
That's why she founded her company Good Clean Love in 2003, which creates certified organic, all-natural, earth-friendly sex-related products that ship internationally. They never use petrochemicals, parabens (which are usually listed as methy-, butyl-, ethyl- and propyl-paraben), or ingredients like chlorhexidine, propylene glycol, and glycerin. (These are the ingredients we'll be referring to here with the blanket term "unnatural lube.")
Strgar gave Bustle the inside scoop on why it's so important for women everywhere to think twice about what kind of lube they're using. Here are four facts you need to know about the dangers of unnatural lubricants.
1. Unnatural Lube Destroys Many Of Your Body's Healthy Cells
Strgar says the weight of propylene glycol alone, a very common ingredient in unnatural over-the-counter lubes, contains hyperosmolar cells that are 30 times heavier than that of natural human cells. It wears down on the healthy cells, sucks the moisture of healthy tissue, and tears the cell off of the cell wall. A 2012 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) proved that hyperosmolar lubricants contain more carbohydrates, salts, and proteins than normally found in a woman's vagina and rectum, which caused a serious imbalance to the epithelial cells. They lost significant amounts of water and dried out, making them highly susceptible to all kinds of infections and complications.
A lead author of the study, Charlene S. Dezzutti, Ph.D. and associate professor OBGYN at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, definitively said, "We tested several kinds of personal lubricants and those that did the most damage to cell tissue were hyperosmolar." So if you're shopping for lube, look at the ingredient list, and definitely avoid any formulas that contain propylene glycol.
2. Unnatural Lube Can Make You 13 Times More Likely To Contract Bacterial Vaginosis
The lube products out there that contain the most petrochemicals, (think ingredients like petroleum jelly), "have been shown to increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis by 13 times with a single use," Strgar tells Bustle. Yep — your risk can increase that much from just one application of unnatural lube.
A 2013 lab study in the journal Pharmaceuticals backs this up. Researchers tested 12 of the most popular lubes in Europe, and found that many of them mess with the pH balance in women's vaginas, which is known to be the culprit of vaginal infections. Another study at UCLA in 2013 found that 40 percent of women who used petroleum jelly internally later battled bacterial vaginosis. Experts who worked on this study said many popular over-the-counter unnatural lube products could increase likelihood of contracting both bacterial vaginosis and a yeast infection.
Strgar urges us to consider the seriousness of bacterial vaginosis in particular. She calls it "the most common yet least diagnosed genital infection women get." Two out of every five women have bacterial vaginosis, and at any given time, 84 percent of them go undiagnosed. Its symptoms include strong, fishy-smelling discharge, inflammation of the vagina, and lots and lots of itching. It's treatable, but it's far from pleasant.
3. Unnatural Lube Increases Your Likelihood Of Contracting Or Passing On An STD
The medical journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases published a study in 2012 that showed men and women who'd used traditional lube for anal sex in the last month were much more likely to contract gonorrhea or chlamydia than those who had anal fun without it. They suspect it was because the lubricants increased inflammation and encouraged organisms to grow and multiply.
Another concern is propylene glycol, a hugely popular ingredient in many over-the-counter lubes. It's a cell membrane permeator, which means it passes through the skin easily and acts as a delivery agent. It is used in many other medical situations to swiftly insert something into the bloodstream, so if there is any trace present of an STD from your partner, even one you may not know about, the presence of propylene glycol latches onto the bad microbes and delivers them straight into your bloodstream. Scary, isn't it?
Strgar also points out that women who have undiagnosed bacterial vaginosis are 60 percent more likely to contract an STD, as well as three times more likely to transmit these infections to their partner. And if you're an avid petrochemical lube user, you might be walking around with bacterial vaginosis without any idea.
4. Certain Unnatural Lubes Can Compromise Condoms
Natural or not, oil-based lubricants should never be mixed with condoms. They break down the latex in condoms, making them less likely to perform the job you intend for them to do. But Lauren Streicher, MD, assistant professor OBGYN at Northwestern University, told Prevention that lube with petroleum jelly is the worst possible choice when using a condom to prevent pregnancy. "It stays there for days and days, attracting and collecting bacteria while making latex condoms less effective," she says.
Condoms are 98 percent effective when used properly, so all you have to do is double-check that your lube is water-based — because if it's not, you might have a broken condom on your hands.
The Bottom Line
When in doubt, it's always best to reach for the lube options that work well with your body composition. Of course, Strgar highly recommends you give her brand, Good Clean Love, a shot. There's also Yes, which is plant-based and certified organic, and Sutil, a "fine botanical lubricant" with lotus root (fancy, huh?) that's totally eco-friendly. There are also the even more natural oils straight from the earth that could work well for you. Coconut oil is my go-to lube, and it has always worked like a charm.
Above all, Strgar tells Bustle, "Always read labels on products. If you don’t know what ingredients are, search them on the web. Get information from your physician or reliable sources." Make sure you've got your OBGYN's number saved, because they should be able to answer any detailed questions you've got about your lube adventures — of which I hope you have many.
Images: Fotolia; Good Clean Love (2)/YouTube; Giphy (3)