The vagina naturally produces lubrication that helps facilitate sexual activity. If natural lubrication is not enough, people can use artificial lubricant, or lube, to make sexual activity more comfortable.
When a person becomes sexually aroused, their vagina produces extra lubrication. This lubrication reduces friction in the vagina, increasing comfort during sex and minimizing any feelings of soreness or irritation. However, vaginal dryness is a very common sexual issue.
Artificial lubricants reduce vaginal dryness. Lubes are available in many different textures, flavors, and materials to suit a person's needs and preferences.
In this article, we explain natural vaginal lubrication and discuss the types, benefits, and possible side effects of artificial lubrication.
Vaginal tissue is naturally moist.
Fluid from the cervix and secretions from the Bartholin glands — two pea sized glands at the entrance to the vagina — help keep the vagina lubricated. During arousal, the Bartholin glands secrete extra fluid to reduce friction.
Occasional vaginal dryness is common, but chronic vaginal dryness can signal either menopause or a medical issue, such as vaginal atrophy. People who routinely struggle with vaginal dryness should talk to a healthcare professional.
Once the vaginal tissues become thinner, the individual may need more lubrication than they previously did to feel comfortable during sexual activity.
It is common, even among healthy people, for the vagina to produce insufficient lubrication. Artificial lubricant replaces the natural vaginal secretions, making the vagina feel more moist and reducing any discomfort resulting from vaginal dryness.
A person might choose to use synthetic lubricant when:
- they experience vaginal dryness due to medication
- changes in hormone levels during pregnancy or after childbirth cause temporary vaginal dryness
- menopause causes vaginal dryness
- their vagina does not produce sufficient lubrication — for example, if they "run out" of lubrication after a long session of sexual activity or find that their natural lubricant is insufficient to reduce the friction of sex
- they experience pain or itching in their vagina, which can happen when sensitive vaginal tissue is very dry
A person who wants to try artificial lubricant has several options, including those below:
Drugstores stock dozens of vaginal lubricants, which come in different flavors depending on a person's preference.
These products provide short term moisture for various forms of vaginal contact, including sexual activities and vaginal health examinations.
They comprise varying substances with different benefits:
- Water based lubricants containing glycerin are popular. However, glycerin free options may be more suitable for people who get frequent yeast infections.
- Silicone based lubricants last longer than water based lubricants, making them a good option for people with severe vaginal dryness or a history of pain during sex. They are not safe to use with silicone sex toys, though, and they can be greasy.
- Oil based lubricants include many readily available products, such as kitchen oils. They are usually edible and are safe for the vagina, but they can be messy. Synthetic oil based lubricants, such as mineral oil and petroleum jelly, can work well but may also irritate the vulva.
Silicone and water based lubricants are safe to use with latex condoms. However, oil based lubricants may destroy latex condoms.
Some lubricants may affect sperm function, potentially decreasing the chances of a person getting pregnant, so those who are trying to conceive should choose a sperm friendly lubricant. People hoping to prevent pregnancy and use lubricants can consider using spermicides along with other contraceptives.
Vaginal moisturizers are long acting lubricants that can help with chronic dryness. Their effects usually last for several days.
These products are a good option for people who experience intense vaginal dryness, even when they are not having sex. These moisturizers are safe to use alongside vaginal lubricants.
Some people use coconut oil for vaginal dryness. Studies suggest that coconut oil is an effective moisturizer for other body parts, but there is a lack of research on its benefits for the vagina. People should avoid using coconut oil with a latex condom, as it can break down the latex and make the condom ineffective.
Read about other home remedies for vaginal dryness.
Estrogen based creams can treat vaginal dryness that occurs due to low estrogen levels. These creams work by replacing lost estrogen, potentially reversing some of the effects of menopause and medical conditions that cause low estrogen.
Most of these creams require the user to decrease the dosage over time.
Estrogen creams can work well, but they are not safe for people who do not tolerate estrogen well. It is important to discuss with a doctor the risks and benefits of using estrogen cream.
When using over-the-counter lubricants and moisturizers, people should always follow the directions on the box.
It is best to start with a small amount of the product and then gradually increase the amount until the vagina feels comfortable. Some people find that reapplying the lubricant several times provides the best results.
A person may find it helpful to experiment with several different lubricants, paying attention to how their body responds to each one. If the vagina feels itchy or sore after using one of these products, this could indicate an allergy or sensitivity to an ingredient in the lubricant.
People should only try estrogen based creams after discussing their use with a healthcare professional. These creams often require a prescription. It is important to follow the directions for use and not exceed the dosage that a healthcare professional recommends.
Estrogen creams can take time to work, and it takes a few weeks for most people to see results.
Commercial lubricants are safe for most people.
However, as with any healthcare product, they present some risks, including:
- allergic reactions
- skin irritation
- yeast infections
- interfering with fertility
- drying up quickly, requiring frequent reapplication
When a person has clinical vaginal dryness, artificial lubricants do not treat the underlying problem. They will not increase estrogen or revive thinning vaginal tissue. People may, therefore, find that these products do not fully resolve the issue.
For those who do not get relief from vaginal dryness when they use commercial lubricants, estrogen creams may be a good option. Some other strategies that may help improve lubrication include:
- remaining hydrated
- having sex only when aroused
- spending more time on foreplay
- masturbating before sex
- increasing the frequency of masturbation or sex
Vaginal lubrication can help people have better and more comfortable sexual experiences.
For people with vaginal dryness, the symptoms can be very uncomfortable or frustrating. A healthcare professional can help determine the cause of the dryness and then recommend a suitable solution.
Sex should not be painful, and the vagina should not be a source of discomfort. A person can see a doctor if vaginal dryness persists or does not get better with the use of a commercial lubricant.
Buying vaginal lubricants
People can find the products that we have mentioned in this article in drugstores. Alternatively, they can choose between products online: