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How Lubricant Ingredients Influence Pelvic Health

By Dr. Brooke Meinema, DPT, FAFS

Sexual lubricants can have a much bigger impact on our pelvic health than we may realize. While many people can get away with never experiencing a problem as a result of their lubricant selection, our lube choices can have an impact on our pelvic health including our pH, bacterial growth, infection (i.e. recurring bacterial vaginosis (BV) or frequent UTIs), irritation, and dryness. For people who have sensitivities, it is so important to understand what you should be looking for in a good lubricant. Some things that would be good to recognize are pH, osmolality, and ingredients.

Vaginal and Rectal pH:

Vaginal pH: 3.8-4.5

  • A vaginal pH that is too high or too low can disrupt the natural flora of good bacteria living within the vagina that keep things happy and healthy. A change in pH can feed the bad bacteria increasing the risk for issues such as UTIs and BV.

Rectal pH: 7-8

  • The pH of the rectum is different from the vagina, and, as a result, different lubricants can be better when used rectally to prevent tearing and irritation.


When discussing lubricants, osmolality refers to the hydrating or dehydrating affect the lubricant may have on tissue. Something that is hyperosmotic (i.e. a higher number) can suck the moisture out of the cell walls leading to increased dryness and irritation following use. This can damage or potentially kill cell walls in the vaginal or rectal mucosa and increase risk of infection. The WHO recommends lubricants be <1200 mOsm/kg (ideally below 380 mOsm/kg).

Checking the ingredients:

Understanding what ingredients can be helpful or harmful in your lubricants is also important. Some active ingredients can increase risk of bacterial growth and infection while others can help soothe tissue and balance your pH.

Ingredients to avoid:

  • Glycerin or glycerol:
    • Can feed yeast
  • Parabens
    • May impact endocrine system function for both sexes
  • Glycol
    • Can lead to issues for herpes simplex 2, bacterial vaginosis, and yeast infections
  • Nonoxynol-9
    • May damage vaginal and anal lining
  • Chlorhexidine gluconate
    • Can kill healthy bacteria and disrupt natural flora

Ingredients that can be good:

  • Aloe:
    • Healing, soothing, and moisturizing
  • Lactic/citric acid:
    • Maintains good vaginal pH and promotes healthy flora

If you have any questions or are curious about how physical therapy can benefit you, feel free to contact us 616.847.1280 to schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our skilled pelvic health physical therapists.

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