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Lubrication. What a wonderful thing.
It reduces friction when body parts rub together. It makes sex comfortable. Heck, it makes it more than comfortable, it makes sex pleasurable!
Many women* feel very proud of the amount of lubrication they create when aroused. For some it is a sign of their femininity. For others it expresses something about their sexual vitality. This external sign of sexual arousal can also be arousing in and of itself. Feeling wet can tell the mind what the body is feeling, helping the mind find its way to deeper arousal.
But becoming wet or producing lubrication is not the most reliable indicator of sexual arousal.
Emily Nagoski makes this point in her book, Come As You Are, when she explains about arousal non concordance. This just means that sometimes that body gets turned on, but it’s just a physiological reaction to sexual things, not an actual reflection that the person thinks something is sexy. In terms of lubrication, this can mean that the vulva is wet but the person is not turned on.
It is also the case that women can be turned on and not produce lubrication.
Every woman’s body is unique and the amount of lubrication a woman produces varies. For many women, vaginal lubrication naturally occurs when aroused, but not always.
Women often carry some shame if they are not able to become wet with stimulation.
However, lack of lubrication shouldn’t necessarily be taken to mean there is a problem – in the sexual relationship or with a woman’s body. All kinds of things effect lubrication.
The ability to lubricate is a lovely thing but it is not the be all and end all of women’s sexuality. Just as it is a good idea to not focus on a man’s erection as a sign of his “virility”, it’s also not a great idea to focus solely on wetness as a sign of woman’s readiness or “feminine power”.
Just as men have more to contribute to sex than a hard penis, women have more to contribute than a wet vagina.
So, what is a person to do when they can’t always rely on the body to produce lubrication?
Rather than fretting about natural lubrication, I recommend that all vulva owners use really good lubricants to take the pressure off of the body to respond in any particular way and to simply increase pleasure. Viva la lubricant!
Lubricants increase pleasure, right from the very start of sexual play. Vulvas, clitorises, and vaginas love slipperiness. By applying lubricant at the start of genital play, you have kick-started pleasure in to high gear right from the beginning.
This can increase natural lubrication. Excellent!
And if natural lubrication isn’t available, then a great lubricant can continue to facilitate pleasure throughout sexual play. Wonderful!
Lubricants aren’t just great for vaginal play. They are an absolute necessity for anal play. But for goodness sake, where aren’t they helpful? Elbow play? Yes, please. Armpits? Knees? Breasts? Toes? Bring it on.
Seems like a simple formula: Lubricants + Sexy Playtime = More Pleasure
There is no shame in the lubricant game!
Many people have used a lubricant at one time or another.
You may have picked up a name brand lubricant at the drug store or in the grocery aisles. Brands like KYJelly and Astroglide are some of the most commonly used.
You may have just used whatever your partner had at the bedside and not thought much of it.
But lubricants matter. This is because YOU matter. Taking the time to find a lubricant that meets your specific needs can go a long way to leveling up your sex life and even improving vaginal health.
But not all lubricants are created equally. So, what should you look for?
What you need in a lubricant is one that is super slippery and ALSO healthy for vulvovaginal tissue. Seems pretty straightforward.
Other considerations can include: Is this lubricant ok to use with a condom? Will it stain my sheets? Maybe taste is a consideration?
How is a busy person to figure this out?
Believe it or not, there are lubricant nerds! People who have thought long and hard about lubricant composition and quality. You can benefit from their hardwork and research.
First, let’s consider lubricants in terms of slipperiness and ease of use during sex with condoms and sex toys.
There are many different types of lubricants but they generally fall into three broad categories: water-based, silicone-based, and oil-based.
Water Based: Water-based lubricants are most commonly used but they aren’t usually the slipperiest choice. They are, however, safe to use with vibrators, sex toys, and condoms. They are easy to clean up and are available in a wide variety of consistencies, from thin liquids to thick gels. The one problem with water-based lubricants is that they tend to dry up quickly and may need reapplication or a few drops of water or saliva to keep them slippery. A fun fact, aloe vera gel straight from the plant is one example of a safe, natural water-based lubricant and is a component of many good commercial lubricants as well. Good Clean Love is a great option.
Silicone-based: Silicone-based lubricants remain slippery longer than water-based ones. They are often the best lubricant for women with dry or irritated skin. They are regarded as hypoallergenic since they do not soak into skin and do not use preservatives. They only real down side is that they can be a bit more expensive and cannot be used with silicone sex toys. However, they can be used with latex condoms and sex toys not made of silicone. A great option is Uberlube.
Oil-based lubricants: Oil based lubricants hydrate tissues and last longer than water-based lubricants. However, they are not compatible with condoms. The beauty of a product like coconut oil is that it is cheap and easy to find. Many women may also prefer it as it is a more “natural” product without potentially irritating chemical ingredients. There is some controversy over the safety of oil-based lubricants but the fact is that there is no good research to confirm oil-based lubricants are problematic and many women highly enjoy them. Some people argue that they may predispose women to recurrent infections such as bacterial vaginosis or yeast. You may want to avoid oils if you have a history of these types of infections. Only plant-based lubricants are recommended for use as a personal lubricant; I recommend coconut oil. Petroleum-based oils like Vaseline can breed bacteria and should not be used internally.
Tips for using coconut oil: Opt for an unrefined coconut oil product. Spoon it into quarter size balls and place in a container in the freezer. This can make it easy to use, avoids contamination and the cool temperature can be very soothing.
Hybrid: Hybrid lubricants are a combination of water and silicone lubricants. They last longer than water-based lubricants but not as long as silicone-based lubricants. They are compatible with safer sex barrier methods and most sex toy materials. However, some hydrid lubricants are not compatible with silicone sex toys. One good option is Sliquid.
Ok, this is a lot of information. But never fear, I have created a handy-dandy one page resource that summarizes all of this and suggests some good brands for you.
There are four different types of lubricants. But importantly, you don’t have to pick just one!
Maybe you want a water-based lubricant for sex with condoms or your sex toys. But you end up deciding an oil-based or silicone lubricant is better for skin to skin contact because of its maximal friction reduction and pleasure production.
Some lubricants have ingredients that aren’t great for vaginas such as parabens, glycerin, chlorhexidine, mineral oil, petroleum, and propylene glycol. Products containing these substances are out in my book.
Some have qualities that actually dry out the tissues of the vagina (due to their osmolality if we wanna get nerdy) or can change the vaginal microbiome (due to their pH). Ultimately, you want a product that matches the environment of the vagina and is most like your natural lubrication or else there are likely to be problems like irritation etc.
Another thing to avoid would be “warming” or “arousing” gels. I mean, what’s in that anyway and do you really want it in your vagina? These are likely to contribute to irritation and infection.
So that covers some ideas that come up around the healthiness of a lubricants. The problem is that manufacturers don’t often include all the information you need to know on their packaging.
Never fear! The World Health Organization has got your back!
Yes, the WHO did women everywhere a huge solid by doing extensive research on lubricants and providing a handy dandy guide to their various qualities. Of note, the WHO was worried that bad lubricants could cause tissue damage and increase the likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted infections, more food for thought.
All women can benefit from use the lubricants at least some of the time ( I advocate all of the time!).
Though you may see moisturizers mixed in with lubricants in the “personal hygiene” section of your local store, moisturizers are a different product and have a different purpose.
Moisturizers are used to provide long term relief of vaginal dryness, usually for women who are post-menopausal. These can also be helpful for women any time they have low estrogen for whatever reason. For more on why low estrogen can be a problem for vulvas, see this article.
Moisturizers work much like the lotions used on other parts of the body. They hold water in place to prevent the tissues from becoming dehydrated and dry.
Unlike lubricants, which are used as needed for sexual play, moisturizers are used routinely, usually about 3-5 times a week, to provide continuous hydration.
Like lubricants, not all moisturizers are created equally.
A good moisturizer will have qualities like that of the vaginal tissues (the right pH and osmolality) and will not have any irritating ingredients.
Though stores are carrying moisturizers more often these days, good moisturizers are often only sold online.
One ingredient that has been getting a lot of research and attention recently is hyaluronic acid. You may have heard of it as the go-to ingredient in serums and moisturizers for the face. Well, it is also being shown to be equally helpful for the vulvovaginal tissues.
For more information on how to keep postmenopausal vulvas happy and healthy, please check out Five Things You Can Do to Have Pain Free Sex After Menopause.
Lubricants are the OG sex aide!
Maybe you are fine with the idea of using lubricants but are here to just find a better one. Awesome! Use these recommendations to find a few that are perfect for you!
But maybe you are feeling a little embarrassed about this whole thing? Maybe you feel a bit uncomfortable reaching for a lubricant during sex?
First, you don’t have to use lubricants. But if a part of you is interested–even though other parts are running in the other direction…
Maybe a little exploration with “friction reduction” can make lubricants less intimidating.
The truth is that lubrication is enormously helpful in making any skin to skin contact more pleasurable.
Maybe try this with your partner. Start by caressing each other’s hands. Just exploring touching each other’s hands in a pleasurable way. Next, apply lotion or massage oil to your hands. Resume your exploration. Notice anything different? Maybe the touch feels better? More arousing?
Maybe try out how this “friction reduction” feels on other body parts. How does it feel to your partner?
Consider that sexual lubricants are just like the lotion or massage oil you may be using on other body parts. It’s just that sexual lubricants are made to be safe for your vulva.
Maybe the packaging of the products is too “sexy” for you? Too embarrassing? Well, then consider something simple like a little bit of coconut oil. Try it on other body parts, make it part of a massage perhaps. Then see if also reaching for it during sex seems less intimidating.
Lubricants are really a win-win for everybody during sex. Find good products that work for you and know that you are fully empowered by me to use them every time.
Viva la lubricant! Viva la pleasure!
*In this article, the term “woman” or “women” will refer to people that are born with a vulva and vagina. As we know, there are women who are not born with this genitalia and other genders who do have a vulva and vagina. Language is somewhat inept in its ability to elegantly capture this beautiful complexity. I encourage you to use the information in this article as it applies to you or your loved ones.