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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 (BV), 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. Often the sexual advice offered is outdated and can be detrimental to sexual health, including prescribing sexual lubricants that contain glycerin, known to cause thrush, something which nearly destroyed my sex life in my 20’s and 30’s.

The only advice I got from a gynaecologist at my local hospital was to iron the gusset of all my knickers which is useful advice but he never discussed my sex life or the use of lubricants.

Over the years I have learnt to avoid scented or coloured products, such as shower gels, bath bombs, scented condoms and scented sanitary pads. I avoid having baths and cannot understand why anyone would put a bath bomb in their bath as these can cause thrush too. I switched to a Mooncup as tampons used to cause so much irritation and exacerbate vaginal dryness, I wish TOTM ( Time of the Month) organic products had been available when I still had periods.

Many GPs, including mine, often tell women to have a glass of wine before having sex after childbirth, yet telling them to use a pH balanced sexual lubricant is much better advice. Many people do not realise that breastfeeding impacts on vaginal secretions, and sexual intercourse may feel uncomfortable or painful.

I also use YES VM vaginal moisturiser as it is so soothing on the delicate tissues of the vagina and helps to restore the pH of the vagina which may become unbalanced, leading to vaginal infections.

Being menopausal I am aware that women going through the menopause are often more prone to getting thrush and BV as a result of decreasing oestrogen levels which affect the vagina walls making them thinner, lose elasticity and less well lubricated.

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 many young women go through an early menopause a s a result of Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) or following cancer treatments, both medical and surgical.

Levels of vaginal secretions differ between women of any age and can be affected by stress, anxiety, hormonal changes due to contraception or post-childbirth, side effects of medication and medical or surgical 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, often spending £100’s. 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 to 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 including KY jelly 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. This can also be problematic when you have had cancer and cancer treatments too.

Feminine Hygiene Products

New research by the University of Guelp in Canada found that 95% of women use feminine hygiene products in the form of douches, washes, wipes, and lubricants to keep their vagina clean and smell lovely, yet many of these products can be detrimental to vagina health. Some women may have been using these products to overcome an existing infection, rather than seek medical advice.

They found that women who used gel sanitizers were eight times more likely to have a yeast infection and almost 20 times more likely to have a bacterial infection.

Women using feminine washes or gels were almost 3 ½ times more likely to have a bacterial infection and 2 ½ times more likely to report a urinary tract infection.

Participants using feminine wipes were twice as likely to have a urinary tract infection, and those using lubricants or moisturizers were 2 ½ times as likely to have a yeast infection.

This market is worth $2billion in North America alone. In the UK our supermarket shelves and chemists are awash with so many of these products. Whilst these products continue to exist and be advertised in the media by celebrity doctors women will continue to use them. We have to educate women that our vaginas are self cleaning and do not need to be scrubbed, douched, scoured or perfumed to keep them clean and smell like lavender or roses.

On a gender note, where are all the penis douches, wipes, sanistisers and washes?

Some men do not have good hygiene habits, we know that bacteria can get trapped under the foreskin or in unwashed underwear and under nails when men scratch their bottoms and testicles, yet the genital hygiene market is prominently aimed at the insecurities of women making them believe that their vagina is unclean.

The manufacturers of such products are making millions and will continue to do so whilst we continue to buy their products.

I recently came across perfumed condoms marketed at women to empower them to buy them. No one needs a perfumed condom!

There are products that have been designed to benefit vagina health, so do some research and choose carefully but remember you don’t need to scour your vagina, you can keep it healthy and prevent infections by not using feminine hygiene products that upset the vagina flora.

What Ingredients should I avoid?

Glycerin

For women who know they have a sensitivity and are prone to vaginal infections, it is best to avoid products that contain glycerin, found in many products, especially flavoured lubricants. Choose a product that is pH balanced and glycerin free if possible if you think you have a sensitivity and always check the label. If your GP prescribes a lubricant or vaginal moisturiser, ask them what the ingredients are.

Just because it is on prescription does not mean it is good for your vagina health.

Some flavoured lubricants only use natural flavourings that do not contain glycerin, so check the label. Flavoured lubricants are ideal for oral sex but if you know you are sensitive, it is advisable to wash it off before penetrative sex and use your glycerin free lubricant.

Propylene Glycol

Another common ingredient is glycol, a common preservative found in many sexual lubricants and a well known vaginal 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.

Educating Healthcare Professionals

When prescribing a sexual lubricant, HCPs need to be aware of what some of them contain, such as glycols which cause vaginal irritation When advising their patient to buy a commercial lubricant they need to tell them to check the ingredients for glycols and parabens as these both cause imbalance to the vagina flora leading to infection or irritation, exaccerbating the problem further.

Not all lubricants and vaginal moisturisers are the same and choosing the cheapest product on prescription will not save money in the long term when the patient returns for another prescription for anti fungal treatment for thrush or antibiotics for bacterial vaginosis.

If your GP prescribes a sexual lubricant, ask them to check the ingredients, especially if you have sensitive skin, recovering from cancer treatments or suffer from thrush or other vagina infections. If you experience any problems such as itching, burning or develop a vaginal discharge, stop using it and ask to be prescribed something different.

HCPs also need to ask their patients what feminine hygiene products they are using if they present with recurrent UTI’s, thrush and BV. There is no point in treating the infection if the woman continues to use the product that has caused it in the first place. It will just return.

I work with many HCPs who ensure they offer the best product to their patients.

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.

Some sexual lubricant companies will send you a sample a try, something we definitely recommend. Alway do a skin test to ensure that is does not irritate.

Using YES organic lubricants has transformed my sex life, especially now I’m menopausal. So become lube-savvy and just as you would pay attention to your diet and skin care products, choose your sexual lubricants carefully.

Discovering a pH balanced sexual lubricant that works for you will enhance both your sexual health and pleasure, whatever your age and keep your vagina very happy!

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