Q&A: Is Glycerin In Lube Bad For Vaginas?

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QUESTION: Is glycerin in lube bad for vaginas? I've heard that it can cause/increase the chances of yeast infections and UTIs. Is this true?

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There is a great deal of misinformation about lubricants and vaginal sex including the idea that glycerin is necessarily bad for vaginas. In fact, most commercial lubricants contain glycerin and women rarely experience negative side effects of genital symptoms in connection with lubricant use.

UTI’s

Sex itself – whether or not a woman uses lubricant – can increase the risk of a woman acquiring a urinary tract infection, or a UTI.

Women’s urethras are only a few inches long – shorter than men’s urethras – and so the distance between the urethral opening and the bladder is also quite short. This makes it easy for bacteria from the outside world, including fluids such as semen and vaginal fluids and lubricant and creams people sometimes use during sex, to make their way into the urethra and toward the bladder. This is one reason why some healthcare providers recommend that women who are prone to urinary tract infections to try pee after they have sex.

Yeast Infections

Yeast infections are also quite common and many women will experience 1 or more yeast infection throughout their lives. Certain ways of having sex can increase the chances that a woman will get a yeast infection. For example, some research suggests that women who are prone to yeast infections – meaning that they get several yeast infections a year – may be more likely to get a yeast infection if their partner performs oral sex on them or if they have sex with a man who they have just performed oral sex on or if they have sex with a man who has used saliva for lubricant on his penis.

In other words, saliva that finds its way to women’s genitals – whether through oral sex or through being carried on a man’s penis during intercourse – seems to increase the risk of a yeast infection for some women. By that logic, it may be that using a commercial lubricant or no lubricant at all may reduce the risk of yeast infections for some women.

Why Lube?

Women who feel chronically dry in their vagina may benefit from using a vaginal moisturizer. Some women, and especially menopausal and postmenopausal women, benefit from using estrogen creams or other types of hormone replacement in order to help their vagina be more wet and flexible. Women who are interested in vaginal moisturizers, with or without estrogen, might ask their healthcare provider for more information.

Spending more time engaging in foreplay that feels very exciting, and for at least 10 minutes or longer, can also help women to feel more lubricated for comfortable, pleasurable vaginal intercourse or penetration.

You can learn more about lubricants, vaginal health, and sexual pleasure in Sex Made Easy: Your Awkward Questions Answered for Better, Smarter, Amazing Sex.

Dr. Debby Herbenick (M.P.H., Ph.D.)

is a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and author of several books including Sex Made Easy and Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.
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