2/2/08

Sexual Lubrication: A Slippery Topic


Recently, on a local women’s forum, someone posted an anonymous request for advice.

Fighting off my urge to answer it there, I realized that this would be a relevant health topic for Lesbiatopia, a forum where more women will read it, and hopefully benefit.

This was her query:

“I'm dating someone new who just doesn't get wet when we have sex. She says she never has with anyone and that it isn't related to her desire. If I go down on her, she comes with no problem, but otherwise she has to use lots of lube. Is there anything we can do about this? Like a change of diet or anything? Or should I just get over it and use lube?”

There are two different things at work in this question. The first is about the reason the new girlfriend may not be lubricating, but underlying that question, there seems to be lube-a-phobia on the part of the woman asking.

Let’s address the two things in order.

Women lubricate at different rates. Sexual responsiveness is highly individualized. Wetness is not always an indicator of arousal or ability to respond sexually. That said, changes in lubrication should be noted for health reasons like any other change in bodily function. A sudden decrease in your body’s ability to lubricate can be an indicator of a vaginal infection or other condition and warrants a trip to your health professional.

Emotional discomfort can have an effect on lubrication. Feeling embarrassed, shy, or unsafe can affect a woman’s ability to relax and get turned on. So can external stress factors (job, family, money, etc.) and exhaustion.

The most common reason for women not lubricating during sex is lack of foreplay, or a need for more stimulation. There’s a double-whammy here, because manual stimulation – even externally – can be uncomfortable, even painful, for some women when they’re dry. Painful stimulation can adversely affect their ability to begin lubricating, and a vicious cycle begins.

This is one situation where a few drops of lube, applied externally, can really help to get the old ball rolling. Faster, more direct and to the point: Lick your fingers.

Saliva, of course, should only be used as a lubricant if you’re fluid-bonded with your partner. If you’re using dental dams and gloves, an appropriate lube (more below on what’s appropriate when) will make things go much more smoothly.

For some women, that initial jumpstart is all it takes to get their internal juices flowing.

Others, however, may need assistance with lubrication all along the way.

A woman’s ability to lubricate can potentially be affected by changes in her hormones, medications, personal habits, diet, and stress level.

Varying levels of hormones can affect a woman’s wetness. Menopause is a classic time for changes, as is the post-partum period and during breastfeeding. In fact, anything that changes hormone levels could potentially affect lubrication, including hysterectomy and invasive procedures, medical conditions, and nutritional supplements. Reduced lubrication can be linked to low levels of estrogen, and it’s easy to have your estrogen levels checked by your physician or nurse practitioner.

Many medications can potentially reduce lubrication including antihistamines, cold pills, birth control pills, appetite suppressants, diuretics, testosterone supplements, and anti-depressants.

The use of harsh detergent cleansers can irritate delicate vaginal tissues and have an effect on lubrication. Likewise, many bubble bath and bath salt preparations can be irritating, no matter how pretty they smell, and relaxing they feel.

Super-absorbent tampons may reduce a woman’s natural secretions, and many women find a dab of lube beneficial during their menstrual cycle. (Not to mention a quick way to ease cramps!)

It’s hard to find evidence linking diet to changes in lubrication, but it stands to reason that a very low-fat diet, especially one low in the “good fats” like olive, fish, and nut oils, may have an adverse effect. Dehydration, which can be a result of exercise, heat, and over-consumption of caffeine and alcohol, will affect your body’s ability to produce fluids. (So while alcohol is a social lubricant, it’s not a personal one!)

On the subject of food, I have to say, food makes a lousy lubricant. Honey, whipped cream, chocolate syrup, fruit, and other legendary sex toppings will trigger yeast infections in many (if not most) women. Spread them on each other and lick yourselves silly, but only above the waist, please.

This brings me to the second part of the question, about whether the asker is experiencing lube-a-phobia.

Over the years in casual and more intimate conversation, I’ve noticed that women often have strong feeling about using lube. Dare I say, lube can be a slippery topic?

Some women love the stuff. As one of my friends says “just using it feels so dirty.” Other can’t stand it, or as another says “ using it just feels so dirty.”

(I’m betting that the ones that can’t stand it need it the least.)

Some treat the use of lube like an admission of defeat, thinking they can’t get aroused enough, or can’t arouse their partners enough. Often one partner wants it but is shy about introducing it to the other. Some women think it’s only for use with sex toys, or during anal sex or fisting (the later two activities definitely require lube to protect delicate tissues). Some don’t like the texture, smell, or taste.

Today there are so many different lubes on the market, there’s definitely something for every desire. No one needs to be rubbed the wrong way.

Most modern lubes are relatively thin. Some are available in thicker gel-like solutions. None are thick and sticky like the red grease used to pack bearings.

Side note to mechanics and others: Petroleum products like Vaseline, baby oil, and axle grease never make good lube. They can cause irritation, infection, and break down toys and barriers.

Lubes come in three basic varieties: Water-soluble, glycerin-based, and silicone-based.

Water-soluble lubes tend to rinse off, and out, of the body easily, and are therefore least likely to irritate. They’re condom and toy safe. However, they may need to be reapplied during use.

Glycerin-based lubes are slipperier than water-based. They’re safe with toys. However, some women find that glycerin-based lubricants can trigger yeast infections. Glycerin is, chemically, refined from glycerol, a sugar alcohol. It makes a super-slick, sweeter-tasting lube, but can cause the same problems as that porn film favorite, whipped cream (although without the silly mustache).

Silicone-based lubes are the slipperiest but have a texture more like oil. While they’re eventually absorbed by the body (and are reportedly non-toxic), they don’t wash off as easily as the water-based products, especially when used internally. They can be used in the water. (Although I can’t vouch that they’re good for your hot tub’s filter!) They’re not safe for use with some toy and barrier materials, including silcone, Cyberskin, and Softskin, but provide lots of long-lasting slipperiness for high-friction activities. They’re also the most expensive.

Amongst all these lube choices are options that are thicker, thinner, flavored, self-warming, and minty-fresh. Some have all-natural ingredients. Any good purveyor of sex accessories like Good Vibrations or Babeland will sell a variety of lubes and be able to provide information about their products' uses, restrictions, qualities, and ingredients. Some shops even sell sampler packets so you can try a variety. Familiar drugstore labels like KY and Astroglide have introduced new products in recent years with more of the features of boutique brands, including products that double as personal massage oils.

So, if you’re lube-a-phobic, broaden your horizons and try some of the options available.

And, to the woman who asked the question, I’ll ask this one in return: If your new girlfriend wants lube and says it will make sex better for her, why the heck aren’t you sprinting out to get her some?



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3 comments:

~Julie Phineas~ said...

I'm going to call wifey right now and say - "Honey, on the way home can you stop at the store and pick up some milk and lube?" Hopefully it goes over well... if not I will refer back to this article! *LOL

Anonymous said...

Hey there Body Geek--I'm the original poster of that question, and I appreciate both the length and breadth of your answer, and also that you took the time to let me know you answered it here.

I'm going to provide you with some additional information, which doesn't take anything away from the validity of your answer in general, just that I want to correct some of your assumptions and answer your questions.

This doesn't seem to be a change in her ability to lubricate--she's 38 and she's been like this her whole life, with everyone, including her long-term partners. I'm ruling out emotional discomfort, as I don't think it applies here. Also, I'm ruling out lack of foreplay, since a) I am the Prince of Going Slowly, and b) she is only a tiny bit wet even after she comes, even after she comes hard, several times.

She's not taking any medication, she doesn't drink alcohol, and only minimal coffee. She appears to be an enthusiastic consumer of fat, and while she does exercise regularly, she drinks much more water than I do, and I'm big lube producer.

Mostly I think we can ascribe this to the variety of the human body chemistry, in all its glory. I was just wondering if there was some secret thing that I hadn't heard of. Like the way all the midwives know that almonds reduce heartburn, but the doctors don't prescribe them.

I wonder if she would be interested in getting her estrogen levels tested. I bet not. But it's an interesting idea.

As far as me being lube-phobic, that wasn't the root of my question. Although I'm sure you're right, and some women are lube-phobic, I genuinely don't think I've ever run into anyone who was really anti-lube. I've used lube for butt sex, and of course I'm happy to use lube when it's needed otherwise--I have some in my nightstand next to my bed. As does she. She wasn't asking me to get lube for her to make sex better, she was telling me she's used it her whole life no matter who she has sex with. Which is mostly fine. I just, well, really like the feeling of touching a super-wet woman. It's one of my absolute favorite things about sex with women, and lube, you know, doesn't feel quite the same, or last in the same way, or something. It's fine--this woman is awesome and amazing and (full disclosure--she isn't my girlfriend yet, since we haven't known each other that long, but she probably will be soon) this isn't a show-stopper.

As I said, I appreciated your response, as well as all the other responses I got, some with suggestions, and some simply offering support. If someone writes me with a suggestion that is as effective as almonds for heartburn, I will let you know.

Anonymous said...

two questions=
One is--what's the best way to work needing a little lube into the whole affair. I mean--it just isn't smooth to stop, get out the squirt bottle, smear some lube around and start again. Any suggestions?
Also, what if one partner gets wet enough for two? My girl is on a medication that affects her ability to cream up. Usually my moist tongue is the right answer but I'd love to just moisten my hand with my own juices for her--is there a problem with that?

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