Everything You Need To Know About Choosing The Right Vaginal Lubricant
Sure, you may not want to be the person who "needs" a vaginal lubricant, but the truth is, a little dryness down south is not uncommon—and no, it doesn't mean anything is wrong with you. While the vagina normally self-lubricates during sexual arousal, a variety of factors could leave you feeling a tad dry, from fluctuating hormones to age to certain meds to inadequate foreplay.
If you're not producing enough natural lubrication, you don't want to power through it and hope for the best either. This could lead to loads of discomfort, chafing, and even damage to the vaginal lining.
Your solution? A good non-irritating lube that not only eliminates discomfort but makes things feel downright amazing when you're getting down with your partner (or just yourself). Here, we discuss all your different lubricant options, plus some tips for boosting your own moisture levels.
What causes vaginal dryness in the first place?
Loads of different things, but the largest group of women who could benefit from lube are postmenopausal women. "When estrogen levels fall, which is what happens with menopause, the vagina tends to get dry; and the further into menopause, the drier women tend to get," says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., OB/GYN, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine.
In addition to a natural decline in hormones as we age, there are many different causes of vaginal dryness, some of which you may never have considered, including medications like birth control, antihistamines, certain antidepressants, and anticholinergic medications, as well as stress and anxiety, douching, soaps, and perfumes.
It can also be caused by being postpartum or breastfeeding, and insufficient arousal. "The best way to lubricate for women is foreplay," says Minkin. "So just trying to attempt penetrative sex right away without foreplay is not a good idea."
What ingredients to avoid in a vaginal lubricant.
You may want to avoid lubricants with added fragrances, flavors, and warming or tingling properties, which could potentially be irritating to sensitive vulvar and vaginal skin, advises Minkin.
More specifically, consider avoiding products containing parabens, which are known endocrine disrupters and can act like a very weak estrogen in the body; propylene glycol, a form of alcohol that could be irritating to sensitive skin; and glycerin (often used to flavor or sweeten lubes), which can promote yeast infections.
Additionally, you should never use a product strictly intended for external use, like petroleum jelly (Vaseline) or mineral oil (including baby oil)—these have been associated with increased risk of yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis as well as candida among women who use them as a personal lubricant.
Otherwise, Minkin says, the choice of lubricant is up to the couple.
Different types of vaginal lubricants—and who should use them.
Not every lube is appropriate in every situation. Some make way more sense for use with sex toys and condoms, while others make more sense if you're trying to conceive or have awesome shower sex. We'll elaborate on all that here:
Water-based lubricants are often considered the most versatile and natural, and they can be safely used with condoms and sex toys (silicone lubricants can break down sex toys over time, while oil-based lubricants are not safe for use with condoms). They can, however, get sticky and tacky a bit more quickly than silicone-based lubes, so you may have to reapply more frequently, but they do have the added benefit of washing off very easily. Many natural water-based lubricants also contain aloe vera, which lends a nice soothing quality.
Be aware that flavored and warming lubricants often contain glycerin, which lends a slightly sweet taste that may be enjoyable for some during oral sex. However, glycerin is known to increase the risk of yeast infections, damage or irritate epithelial cells, and may increase the transmission of STIs like herpes.
Like water-based lubricants, silicone-based lubricants are safe for use with condoms, and many hypoallergenic options are available. They're also the longest-lasting of all personal lubricants and hold up well when exposed to water—in case shower sex is your thing. You will need some soapy water to wash them off though. One caveat: Silicone lubricants should not be used with sex toys that are also made of silicone (which is most of them) as they can break them down over time.
One hard-and-fast rule: Never use an oil-based lubricant with latex condoms, as these will break down the condom, rendering them ineffective. And, as mentioned above, you should always steer clear of synthetic oil-based products such as petroleum jelly and mineral oil—these are not intended to be personal lubricants, and they can cause irritation and increased risk of infection.
Now that we have that out of the way, natural oil-based lubricants can be a great nonirritating lube choice if you're not using condoms. When it comes to oil-based lubes, you can certainly go the DIY route—coconut oil, avocado oil, MCT oil, and almond oil are all good options. Gynecologist and sexual health expert Anna Cabeca, D.O., recommends a simple combo of coconut oil, aloe vera, and soothing essential oils like clary sage (find her recipe here). But there are plenty of preformulated oil-based lubes out there as well.
Women who are trying to conceive should pay extra-special attention to the type of personal lubricant they use. Many lubricants are not sperm-friendly (they inhibit sperm survival and motility), so if you are trying to get pregnant, a fertility-friendly lubricant like Pre-Seed is a good idea, says Minkin. Fertility-friendly lubes are typically pH balanced to mimic your cervical mucus.
Vaginal lubes vs. vaginal moisturizers: What's the difference?
Unlike vaginal lubes, which are used during sex, vaginal moisturizers are meant to be used in the vagina on a regular basis—every two to three days—whether you have sex or not, says Minkin. As with any moisturizer, they're absorbed into the skin and meant to increase moisture and ease discomfort, itching, and irritation. This may allow some women to forgo the lube altogether, but many women may still need (or want) the added lubrication during sex.
Natural ways to boost vaginal lubrication.
While anyone can benefit from lube, there are some simple ways to help boost your body's own natural lubrication.
- Don't forget foreplay. As mentioned above, foreplay is one of the most effective ways to get your...err, juices flowing.
- Enlist your vibrator. Anything that increases pelvic blood flow will help boost moisture, so products such as vibrators can be a very helpful addition to therapy, says Minkin.
- Work those Kegels. Speaking of blood flow, Kegels and other pelvic floor exercises can boost blood flow (which in turn boosts moisture) and increase the intensity of your orgasms.
- Avoid irritants and toxins. Many perfumed soaps and bubble baths contain irritants, and some even expose you to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which can increase vaginal and vulvar irritation.
- Eat healthy fats and probiotics. Healthy fats from foods like salmon, avocados, and olive oil help your body make and balance hormones, while fermented foods such as sauerkraut and yogurt contain probiotics to support the healthy bacteria in your vagina.
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Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).