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Is your sexual lubricant causing thrush?

Is your sexual lubricant causing thrush? | Jo Divine

As someone who spent many years suffering from thrush, bacterial vaginosis, recurrent cystitis and urinary tract infections that led to vaginismus, I was so relieved to discover YES sexual lubricant. It has transformed my sex life after years of suffering and being offered little advice by doctors, none of whom – and there were many – recommended or asked about lubricants as well as using well known commercially available lubricants that made my problems worse.

A recent survey of nearly 7,000 sexually active women between the ages of 16 to 74, published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (2017), found that nearly one in ten British women finds sex painful.

Vaginal dryness is one of the most common reasons why sex feels painful.

Many women, young or old, suffer from vaginal dryness at some time during their life, but are often too embarrassed to discuss the problem or seek help. Vaginal dryness is generally associated with the menopause as it is a common problem that menopausal women experience.

However, levels of vaginal secretions differ between women of any age and can be affected by stress, anxiety, hormonal changes due to contraception or pregnancy, and medical interventions.

Having frequent or vigorous sexual intercourse can cause the bladder to become inflamed or infected. Lack of vaginal lubrication can irritate the delicate tissues of the vagina, vulva and around the entrance to the urethra, the hole where you pee out of, leading to what is commonly known as“honeymoon cystitis” but this can affect any woman of any age. It is called this as couples on their honeymoon have lots of sex so using a sexual lubricant can reduce the incidence of cystitis and urinary tract infections.

Using sexual lubricants are a simple way to enhance sexual intimacy and pleasure and can help reduce the incidence of thrush but choosing the wrong one may exacerbate the problem.

Vagina Health

Many people are careful about what they eat and what beauty products they use on their face, hair and body. However, few think about what their sexual lubricant contains, even though they’re putting it on one of the most sensitive and highly absorbent areas of their body: their clitoris and vagina.

The vagina is often referred to being a “well oiled engine”, as it is a self-lubricating organ. It also has a very delicate pH balance, so introducing chemicals found in many commercially available sexual lubricants can actually do more harm than good. This is also a common occurrence when people use household products as a lubricant substitute

By upsetting the vagina’s pH balance, also known as the “vaginal flora”, common vaginal infections such as thrush and Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) can develop. This is because the new environment caused by certain lubricants is more favourable for the bacteria or yeast to grow in.

BV is often described as having a fishy odour, so is quite easy to identify and is easily treated with antibiotics. Thrush is caused by a yeast infection, making you feel itchy sore and producing a cottage cheese like discharge, easy to treat with over the counter antifungal cream, pessaries or one dose medication. You need to treat your partner to avoid reinfection.

However, rather than getting thrush or BV in the first place, why not look at what’s in your sexual lubricant.

A 2 year study at UCLA of 141 sexually active women aged between 18 and 65 (2013) found that women who used petroleum jelly intravaginally increased their risk for bacterial vaginosis by 22%. Similarly, those who reported using oils, such as those found in your kitchen cupboard had a 32% increased risk for yeast infection.

How do I prevent Thrush?

Household Products

Owning a sex toy company we hear about the weird and unusual range of products people use as sexual lubricants, many of which are not suitable as a sexual lubricant, including Bio Oil, hand cream, body lotion, butter and low fat spreads.

Many couples use saliva as it is watery but it dries out very quickly.

Avoid using products you find in your kitchen cupboards such as oils, spreads, butter or lard.

When buying a sexual lubricant, always check the label.

Alway read the label and check the ingredients of your lubricant. However, be aware that not all commercially available lubricants print their ingredients on the label.

Some popular water based brands frequently prescribed and recommend by healthcare professionals can exacerbate vaginal dryness or vaginal atrophy. This is because they have a high osmolarity so draw moisture away from the walls of the vagina rather than lock it in and hydrate them.

As the walls of the vagina become thinner during the menopause, friction during sex can cause grazes and small cuts, making you more prone to infection such as thrush and BV so choose a sexual lubricant that will not exacerbate vaginal infections.

Glycerin

The major culprit in many sexual lubricants is glycerin, found in many products, especially flavoured lubricants, but also in some available on prescription too, so ask your GP if the lubricant they’re prescribing contains glycerin. If it does, ask to be prescribed a product that is pH balanced and glycerin free if possible.

Some flavoured lubricants only use natural flavourings that do not contain glycerin, so check the label.

Propylene Glycol

A common preservative found in many sexual lubricants, it can be an irritant, especially for women who experience vaginal infections.

Parabens

Some lubricants, even on prescription, can contain parabens. Parabens (methylparabens) are included as preservatives in many cosmetic, personal care and food products to prevent bacterial growth and have been potentially linked to breast cancer.

Research by Dr Darbre at University of Reading (2012) looked at the concentration of five parabens in breast tumor tissue. One or more types were found in 99% of the tissue samples, and all five were measurable in 60% of the samples. They concluded that parabens are absorbed through the skin from skin care products.

The delicate tissues of the vulva and vagina are highly absorbent, therefore avoid using sexual lubricants containing parabens.

To ensure you don’t experience any adverse reaction to your lubricant, always choose a pH balanced lubricant and avoid ingredients such as parabens and petroleum-based ingredients found in petroleum jelly.

Tingling/Coloured/Flavoured Lubes

Some people love them, others hate them, but we never recommend them at Jo Divine. Why? Because there is nothing worse than a burning, stinging or itching vulva or vagina.

Lubricants designed to make you tingle or warm up your vagina contain menthol and chilli, substances that are not recommended for use on your genitals.

“Always try a small amount first. If you experience burning, stinging or itching, wash it off immediately.”

The same goes for coloured lubricants which can cause vaginal irritation and allergic reactions. So, if you’re prone to sensitivity, avoid coloured and flavoured lubricants.

Some lubricants can be difficult to wash off and leave behind a sticky feeling, which is neither pleasant nor sexy. Others can stain your bed sheets and underwear.

What lubricant should I choose?

Many people don’t have any problems with their sexual lubricant, but if you think your product could be causing sexual health issues, choose pH balanced lubricants that are glycerin and parabens free and avoid tingling/coloured/flavoured lubricants.

Water-based Lubricants

These are the closest to your natural vaginal lubrication and safe to use with sex toys and contraceptives. They do tend to dry out more quickly so you may need to reapply more, and they can be easily reactivated with water.

Oil-based Lubricants

Oil based lubricant are longer lasting and thicker than water based. This also makes them more nourishing for the vagina, helping to keep it hydrated and flexible. Be aware that they are not latex- condom compatible, and avoid oil-based substances like Vaseline and baby oil.

You can use water based and oil based lubricants together to create a double glide effect which helps you to enjoy sex for longer.

Silicone-based Lubricants

Silicone-based Lubricants are longer lasting and waterproof, so a little goes a long way. Choose products that do not contain perfumes, flavours or dyes. Great for anal play, choose a product that is pH balanced, to that of the anus as this is different to lubricants designed for vaginal sex play.

You should never use silicone lubricants with silicone sex toys as they can damage the product, leaving them feeling tacky to the touch. Some people are allergic to silicone lubricants so you need to stop using them if you notice any burning, itching or stinging.

So become lube-savvy and just as you would pay attention to your diet and skin care products, choose your sexual lubricants carefully. Incorporating a pH balanced sexual lubricant into your sex play will enhance both your sexual health and sexual pleasure.

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