Be warned that the topic of lube brings out my natural tendency to overshare. Faint hearted readers may wish to turn back now, before I turn your stomach. It is vitally important to keep my husband's little swimmers alive, happy and mobile if I have any hope of getting pregnant. The best temporary home is likely to be natural fertile cervical mucus, which is perfectly designed to keep sperm alive and moving towards the egg. Provided that it is good quality of course, of which I have no assurance as the NHS does not test whether my mucus is too thick, too thin, or consisting entirely from natural killer cells or other such trouble makers (that would be just my luck). So here I explore how to encourage my body to create more fertile cervical mucus as well as other products I can use to top up, should a drought hit my lady garden. What a horrendous expression and image, apologies. It gets worse...
Improve your own fertile cervical mucus
In an attempt to return my body to its factory settings, I'm keen to coax it into functioning the way that it was designed, rather than by-passing it with external substitutes. So if things are drier than the Sahara down there, then a few things worth me trying to bring on the rain:
Avoid antihistamines and decongestants
These won’t just dry up my runny nose and eyes, but also all other mucus production in my body, including in my cervix. Luckily I'm not a key user of antihistamines, despite our cat Roger attempting to bring on an allergy by depositing his fur on every conceivable surface in our house. I also stay away from decongestants, especially just prior to ovulation.
Some cough medicine contains guaifenesin (I'm so pleased I'm writing that an not pronouncing it - too may vowels clumped together), which thins mucus and as a by-product increases the production of cervical mucus. Being careful to select a cough medicine that didn't contain any other active ingredients in addition to guaifenesin, I trialled this approach one cycle, taking 4 teaspoons a day from the first day of my fertile window until the day after ovulation (6 days in total). The syrup tastes hideous and the high glucose content is a rebellious act against my attempts to go sugar free. In future it would be worth me trying to find pure guaifenesin, if I can. The result was a dramatic increase in volume, a Niagara Falls in my pants, just with less tourists taking photos (we are all thankful for that). And the impact on the quality of the mucus? I can't say. It didn't result in a pregnancy so I am still none the wiser about whether more is better when it comes to mucus.
The Infertility Cure, a fabulous book by Randine Lewis on traditional Chinese medicine with a Western medicine perspective thrown in for good measure, suggests beech wood as a natural alternative to guaifenesin. Beech wood contains no additives and can be purchased in health food stores. Something I will consider in any future return of drought. A quick internet search reveals that is comes as a supplement not, as I had imagined, a piece of beech wood bark which you stew is a cup of water to make tea. How disappointing.
What lube to use when trying to get pregnant - Sperm friendly lubes
Sometimes an extra helping hand is needed to ensure sufficient fluid to keep the little blighters alive and swimming. Here are some of the recommendations I have stumbled across during my obsessive reading on fertility.
Egg whites are mentioned as the lube of choice in Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler and The Infertility Cure by Randine Lewis. I can't get my head around how this works. Do I need to whisk it with a fork, like making a meringue? Or do I just crack it, separate the yolk and I'm good to go? Could I get salmonella from rubbing it on my muff? How would I explain this at the hospital? Do I need a back up story (ordinary salmonella, obviously, why would I need to mention my muff at all)?
I'm yet to try this, but if I did I would go for the best qualify organic eggs, unwhisked, from a happy, adventurous chicken, the outdoorsy wholesome type that would never have imagined the destiny its egg would fulfil. Alternatively, I could just purchase a lazy person carton of egg whites to store in the fridge for quick and easy access.
Canola and baby oils
Research has shown these oils to be gentle on sperm and to have only minor impact on motility. Even if you buy the best quality cold-pressed organic variety they are still cheaper than buying Pre-Seed or other fertility friendly lube. But there is a clear (or should that say murky) down side to its use - bed sheet stainage. It is tricky to apply the oil without leaving greasy marks on the bed linen. This led us to the yet another trying to conceive life lesson – the only thing less sexy than scheduled and perfunctory baby making, is sex on a towel to spare the bed sheets. Just shoot us now. It was a horror that kept on giving as I realised with disgust one morning after emerging from the shower that I had dried myself with the sex towel. The use of oils as a lube were a (greasy) low patch for us and one to which we haven’t returned.
You have got to be kidding, right? The craziest suggestion for lubricant that I have ever come across is mustard oil. Research, presumably by a geeky scientist who has never been laid, has shown that "exposure to mustard oil caused persistent hyperactivation of sperm in each sample with no decrease in motility." As desperate as I am for a baby, I draw the line at rubbing mustard oil in to my vag. It may be good for the sperm, but ouch! And the last thing I would then want is for my husband to ‘jump on’ ensuring that the mustard oil is rubbed into every crevice. No thanks. The research concluded that "Mustard oil exposure resulted in hyperactivation of sperm and needs to be studied further." If you bathed me in mustard I'd be pretty hyperactive too. All I can picture are millions of angry, itchy sperm whizzing around the Petri dish trying to outrun the mustard. It is a definite pass on this suggestion. For now. Let’s see how desperate I become in another year’s time.
Returning to more conventional suggestions, Pre-seed is PH balanced to mirror cervical mucus and designed specifically not to harm sperm. Studies shows this lubricant to be superior to other conventional (non-fertility specialist) lubes in terms of sperm maintaining motility and staying alive. After half an hour Pre-Seed does cause a decline in progressive motility (an inability to move in a straight line - like my husband after 6 pints) but after this initial decline the total and progressive sperm motility remains high.
I've used Pre-seed for many cycles. I'm not sure that the company would appreciate me declaring that, given that I've never fallen pregnant and must be a terrible advert for their product. It is easily available on Amazon and although it is relatively pricey for a lube (around £17) it is nothing in comparison to the bags of cash I throw at vitamins and supplements, massages, fertility books and other paraphernalia in my attempt to have a baby. It is effective, doesn’t ruin the bedding and doesn’t burn like mustard. But there is one drawback – it can be a mood killer. The lubricant comes with applicators to apply it internally which either requires prior planning of unsexy scheduled sex or a 'hold that thought' moment as I dash to the bathroom to get Pre-Seeded up. Not hugely romantic, but then neither is trying for a baby really. Not for us infertiles.
What lube to avoid when trying to get pregnant - Sperm murderers
KY Jelly and conventional lubes
Purchasing conventional lube will ensure two things without fail: 1) that it will hinder the sperm’s arduous journey to the egg, and 2) that at the point of purchase, lube clearly in hand, I will run into a senior work colleague or old friends of my parents. I have a lot of respect for life's wicked sense of humour. Commonly used vaginal lubricants have been shown to negatively affect sperm motility in vitro and so this is something that is firmly off my shopping list. There is some research showing that using conventional lube does not impact on time to conception, but this study used fertile myrtles only. Women with a history of infertility, or with a partner with a history of infertility were excluded from participation (charming). I will definitely err on the side of caution, especially as I don’t fall into the fertile category.
Sesame and olive oil
Although oils such as baby and canola, have been shown to be acceptable in terms of their harm to sperm, others such as sesame oil and olive oil have more severely negative impacts on sperm and should be avoided. No doubt sesame and olive oils would have an equally impressive impact on ruining the bedsheets, but given its sperm hampering tendencies, they should be reserved for the kitchen only.
So there we have it. All I know about lube in one place, mixed in with plenty of unnecessary and graphic personal details. If I ever become desperate (and stupid) enough to try the mustard oil I shall let you know, straight after I am released from hospital with genital burns and an amusing story to tell.