Sexual lubricants are used for sexual play. They can be helpful with any kind of sexual play, but especially with any kind of vaginal or anal penetration. Using lubrication for sex doesn’t mean you are not aroused, or that you aren’t attracted to your partner. It’s like making sure your oil tank is full of nice clean oil in order to be sure you have a smooth and worry-free joy-ride.
Use often and plenty. And nothing fancy—no heating, cooling, sparkles, etc. These can be very irritating to sensitive skin. There are 4 basic kinds of lubricants: water-based, oil based, silicone, and silicone-water hybrid.
Water-based lubricants can be used with latex condoms and all sex toys, but may dry up quickly. Some good ones include: Good Clean Love, Yes VM, and AstroGlide Ultragentle. Extra caution is advised when choosing a water based lubricant from the pharmacy—the ones most commonly found in drugstores, such as K-Y Jelly have ingredients that can irritate the vulva and vagina, worsen pelvic pain conditions, damage the cells of the vagina and rectum and lead to infections. If you are trying to become pregnant then you want to find a lubricant that is friendly to sperm as well—and you might want to consider a lubricant like PreSeed for this purpose.
Lube experts advise against using lubes with the following ingredients: Glycerin, Propylene glycol, Chlorhexidine gluconate, Polyquaternium-15, Parabens, Mineral oil, Petrolatum (petroleum jelly)
Oil-based lubricants like natural oils are great for some people. Others find they get sticky after a while. Also, it’s important to know that you can’t use oil-based lubricants with condoms.
Silicone lubricants are best when you need things to be really slippery for a long time. They are also good when genitals are very sensitive to friction, like for those with sexual pain. They work well for anal play. They’re compatible with all kinds of condoms. Silicone lubes last longer than water-based ones. Do not use silicone lube with silicone sex toys—the silicone lube will break down the silicone of the toy. If your partner has erection difficulties, silicone lubricants may reduce friction so much that it is hard for them to maintain an erection. Some good silicone lubes: UberLube, Pink, Pjur, ID Millenium.
Hybrid lubes, a blend of water-based and silicone, are also available. They’re safe with condoms and usually are compatible with silicone sex toys, too. Hybrids last longer than regular water-based lubricants and are more likely to stay slick. An option: Sliquid Silk.
If you are prone to bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections, avoid the following ingredients: glycerin, parabens, propylene glycol, and sensation gimmicks. Also use caution when using food oils for lubrication or moisturizing. They may encourage the growth of bacteria in the vagina and don’t flush out easily. Olive oil and coconut oil may be the exceptions – many people report enjoying them without ill effects. Please note that food oils may cause breakage of condoms and other barriers.
It’s a good idea to explore different lubes by buying samples so you can discover which work best for you. Several good resources have sampler kits: Smitten Kitten, A Woman’s Touch.
Vulva/Vagina Moisturizers – Skin Care for dryness
Dry skin needs special attention. Whether it is dry and irritated because of menopause and other hormonal changes, radiation, or problems with pelvic floor muscles. We are careful with chapped lips. Vulvas and vaginas also need special care. The vulva is the name for the parts outside and the vagina is the canal inside that starts at the vaginal opening and ends at the cervix and uterus. And, some people prefer to use other language for their genitals. That’s all good. The reason this is important here is that the vulva and vagina have different kinds of skin and require different kinds of care.
So, is this different from using lubrication (lube) for sex? Yes! This is SKIN CARE!
When the skin of the vulva and the vagina get less estrogen and testosterone than they are used to, this skin gets dry and uncomfortable for many women. The thickness of the skin and the supporting tissues beneath it get thinner and more easily injured. Also, the pH of the vagina gets lower (less acidic) without estrogen. (The pH is normally between 4.5 and 5.5 when estrogen is present.) The vulvar vestibule—the skin on the inside of the labia minora but outside of the opening to the vagina—the clitoris, and the urethra (where urine exits the body) are all filled with testosterone receptors. This area can become either painful or less pleasurable when there is less testosterone available.
Moisturizers for vaginal and vulvar skin are just like moisturizers for the rest of your body—they should be used regularly to keep skin healthy and strong. And dry, uncomfortable skin is unpleasant anywhere it happens. Use of vaginal moisturizers can also decrease urinary frequency and urgency, urinary tract infections (UTIs) and vaginal infections like yeast and bacterial vaginosis (BV). And, sometimes it can even increase desire.
So where do you start in picking a moisturizer?
I wish this were easier. First there’s the issue of where the moisturizer goes—on the inside or the outside?
For the outside—vulva and vestibule (see picture) a natural oil can be useful as a moisture barrier. Olive oil and coconut oil have the most good buzz about them for this purpose. First, remember not to use soaps on the thinner skin of the vulva as they can be drying—water ONLY to clean. And no douches or wipes either. They also may be drying. Guess what else is drying? Panty-liners and pads, especially ones for urinary issues. Natural oils (olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil) may be used externally as a moisture barrier every day or even after every time you use the toilet. The moisture barrier should go an all the thin skin of the vulva—the labia minora, clitoral hood and just inside the labia minora.
Moisturizers for the inside of the vagina should be the right pH (acidity level) and osmolality (Ever had “prune” fingers from swimming? Vaginas do the same thing. So it’s important to pick a moisturizer with the right “osmolality.” Moisturizers with a high osmolality may be damaging to vaginal skin cells. Ideally a pH of 4.5 and osmolality less than 1200, ideally 270-310. Many moisturizers available in the drugstore either have too low a pH (Replens) or they haven’t published the studies to indicate what the pH is (Luvena) and many are of much higher osmolality than then vaginal environment. And many of them have ingredients that experts recommend avoiding. Primarily, this is a matter of personal experimentation to find the one that works for you.
Recommended Moisturizers: The moisturizers that appear to be most similar to the environment of the vagina in both pH and osmolality are Sylk Natural Intimate Moisturizer, Yes Vaginal Moisturizer, and Good Clean Love Restore.
How to use vaginal moisturizers
Moisturizers for the inside of the vagina should be used every evening for about 2 weeks, and then slowly can be stretched out to every 2-3 nights. It’s easier to use the before bed because it will soak in better if you are lying down. Some recommend using a pad at night for the first few days until you get used to how it feels. There may be a slight stinging initially as your body becomes accustomed to the lower pH.