Ladies and interested gents, it is time to talk about lube – both the natural kind (self-made) and the commercial kind (store-bought). Whether or not you’ve consciously thought about lubrication before, I’ll bet you’re having a visceral response to this topic already. Maybe you’re excited or maybe repelled. Whichever the case, please take a moment to consider why that might be so. A lot of feelings and opinions seem to come up around lube, usually beginning with the belief that you do or don’t have enough. This is important, because a lack of lubrication can cause sex to be painful, and sex should never be painful.
With my patients, I find that most of the time if I suggest adding artificial lubrication, I get a negative response. It’s almost as if I have insulted their womanhood. “No, no, no – I don’t need that. I’m good.” What most people don’t know, however, is that there are some special products out there these days, capable of adding very pleasant sensation, and so even if you don’t need lube enhancement, you may find that you want it. Before we get to why, let’s have a brief discussion about natural lubrication.
No, not coconut oil! Let’s talk about a woman’s own personal vaginal lubrication. Fun fact: it’s always there. And when you need more, you get more. For instance, you need more just before ovulation (preparation for baby-making) and during sexual arousal (preparation for happy-making). It’s no small trick to make this happen though, because the vaginal lining itself has no glands and depends on three other resources for gaining its slipperiness.
The most important of these resources is vascular engorgement, invited to the region by a prerequisite state of arousal. Arousal encourages increased blood flow to the vagina, and then plasma from that blood supply seeps into the vaginal walls. Voila! We have lubrication. Add to that, the Bartholin’s glands, located just inferior and lateral to the vaginal opening, providing mucus, and then just before ovulation, you get an increase in cervical mucus. I hope when you decided to read this article, you were prepared for words like “mucus” and “moist”! ( I’m pretty sure at some point I will have an opportunity to work in the word “moist”.)
So exactly what is the composition of this material designed to make us moist? (See how I did that? ) This natural lubrication of ours is made of water, squalene, urea, acetic acid, lactic acid, alchohols, gylcols, ketones, and aldehydes. I am no chemist, but basically, this list of ingredients is what allows you to maintain a healthy pH level (normally 3.8 to 4.5), fight infection, and add texture, taste, color and aroma to your vagina, subject to change depending on the time of your cycle, level of arousal, diet, medication, etc. etc. etc.
The question remains, why is there sometimes not enough of this lubricating material?
Things that make you go dry:
Menopause (low estrogen)
Pregnancy (low estrogen again)
Breast-feeding (you got it – more low estrogen)
Circumcised penis (increased friction)
Low arousal (deserves its own blog post)
Fear, anxiety… (the usual suspects)
Medications that dry out the mucosa (anticholinergic or sympathomimetic meds, such as those for allergenic, cardiovascular, and psychiatric conditions) and some birth control pills
Sjögren’s syndrome (might want to google this one)
And some things that make you go hmm…
If you have ever bought commercial lube in a drug store, it is worth noting that most (if not all) of these lubes were designed for medical purposes; that is, for medical examinations. In other words, they were designed to go in, out, and done. That’s not how sex works though – is it? Sex usually has lots of ins and outs, as continuous friction is generally the name of the game! So sensual store products can be a real game changer, because they are designed for the duration! Or most of it anyway. AND they are designed to enhance pleasure. Your neighborhood sensual store deserves a visit! If there isn’t one, or if you wouldn’t be caught dead in one, there is always the internet!
So what kinds of lubes are we talking about here. For specific recommendations, I turn to Victoria Cullen, the Lubrarian, but even she will tell you that the most important thing is to explore a variety of lubes and decide which one is best for you.
There are three different categories of lube:
Each have their merits and potential pitfalls. Water-based lubes, for example, last the shortest amount of time and may require reapplication. Also they do not hold up in a bath/shower/body-of-water situation. On the other hand, water-based lubes come in neutral pH options – good for maintaining a healthy vaginal environment.
Silicone-based lubes offer some of the best pleasure enhancement, but cannot be used in combination with silicone toys.
Oil-based lube lasts a long, long time, but cannot be used with latex products (condoms or dental dams), they can stain your linens, and they present a fall risk if used in the shower (be careful!).
Here are some examples of Lubrarian-recommended products in each category:
Oil-based lubes: YES (again)
(All of these can also be found at Amazon.com and other internet sites. Shop around!)
What about olive oil, you say? Olive oil tends to hang around inside the vagina for quite a long time, and anything that hangs around inside the vagina runs the risk of becoming a seed for infection.
Coconut oil? The jury is out. The research just hasn’t been done yet. Sorry!
So in conclusion:
Have fun! Get curious! Explore a new world!
Lube is not just for those in need.
It is for those in want.
You might want to consider it a quality of life issue. ; )