The I-Don’t-Wanna-Use-Lube Blues

Q: Why don’t I produce enough natural lubricant during sex? There is nothing wrong with me physically. I’m 34 now, but I’ve always been like this! I’m envious of women that talk about how wet they get. Men always ask me why I don’t get that wet. I feel like something is wrong with me. I don’t want to depend on KY for the rest of my sex life. There has to be a solution other than use lubes!!!! From my understanding there are glands near the entrance of the vagina that are supposed to produce lube to help the penis enter the vagina. I don’t think mine work!!! Doctors just say use lube. Help!!!

Every now and then, when I find this concern in my inbox–essentially, this notion that wanting or needing an additional lubricant is some kind of personal failure, or that going without one has some sort of elevated status–I just sit here and scratch my head. Because I see people getting really upset over something they don’t have to.

I certainly get women having issues about vaginal dryness: that’s common, particularly when we’re talking about vaginal sex and heterosexual women. (And I’d put little stock in what a guy tells you about it per his previous female partner; let’s listen to what women have to say for themselves.) But the idea that people are constantly flooding the bedroom with vaginal lubrication every time they have sex just isn’t based in reality.

I also get why people have the idea sex should somehow be movie-screen seamless all the time, at any time, without making any adaptations–there are a lot of sources that enable those unrealistic ideas. But in fact, women’s pleasure during partnered sex, particularly as something separate from men’s pleasure, is something that has really only started to be widely addressed in the last 100 years. Historically and even now, a whole host of sexual norms based primarily on cultural ideas of men’s ideas and wants have meant that a lot of women have had a lot of not-at-all pleasurable sex.

Sexual lubricants are nothing even remotely new. They couldn’t always be purchased in stores, but for as long as people have been having genital sex, people have used all manner of things as a sexual lubricant: butter, oils, honey, saliva, animal fats and guts–you name it, if it’s slippery, it’s probably been used as a lube.

Here’s the part I don’t get: If a lubricant makes sex feel better, why not use it?

There are likely any number of things you do in your life that aren’t “natural” or organic. It’s likely that not all of your clothes are homemade ones created with organic fibers, for instance, and that you eat foods with preservatives or flavor enhancers. I might better understand this attitude about lube coming from die-hard naturists, but more often than not, I’d say that the women who send me lube worries are fine with every other aspect of their lives being less-than-100-percent-organic.

Let’s take this idea about “natural” sex to its logical conclusion. That would also mean going without most methods of birth control, protection from sexually transmitted infections or reproductive health care. Heck, it would mean not using the Internet to ask me this question in the first place. I think it’s reasonable to presume, then, that if and when a vagina is not lubricated enough, or at all, then one could conclude that the “natural” thing is for vaginal entry to just be uncomfortable or painful. And that maybe then, it’s “natural” for some kinds of sex you want to engage in for the sake of pleasure not to be pleasurable at all.

And I just don’t buy that way of thinking.

It is normal for women to sometimes not be wet enough for comfort and pleasure throughout all of a sexual endeavor; and for some women, it’s normal all or most of the time. We do have glands which produce vaginal lubrication when we are aroused, but how much we produce tends to depend on a lot of different factors: Not only does lubrication vary from woman to woman, but we won’t always produce the same amount every day, every year, every decade, in every relationship or in every sexual situation. How lubricated we are also is related to our fertility cycle and the chemical changes in our bodies: When we’re most fertile, our cervical mucus is very thin, fluid and slippery. During pregnancy, women often have increased amounts of vaginal discharge.

Vaginal dryness can also occur for other common reasons, including: medications (such as contraceptives, antidepressants or allergy medicine); smoking; health issues (like diabetes, hysterectomy, pregnancy, yeast or bacterial infections, sexually transmitted infections or allergies); dehydration; cancer treatments; low or decreased libido; not having sex as often as you’re used to; menopause or perimenopause; stress, fatigue, depression or anxiety; and chemical sensitivities to things like detergents.

But for people your age, the most common reason for vaginal dryness is a plain old lack of high sexual arousal or desire: not being as turned on as you could be. Sometimes, we’re just not feeling it with a partner. It’s also possible what you think is a lot of sexual arousal may not be so much after all–it may just be the most you’ve experienced so far, and as your life goes on and you have new attitudes and experiences, you may well discover you can be a lot more aroused.

So, what would I suggest as a plan of action for persistent vaginal dryness that’s got you so upset and doesn’t seem to be about a health issue?

  1. See if using lube helps, and if so, use it when you need to. Not using lube, or feeling frustrated and disgruntled about using lube, are only going to be more ways to keep yourself from self-lubricating (stress inhibits arousal, after all). Alternately, take a break from the kinds of sex where you don’t feel lubricated enough.
  2. See a health care provider who is a full-time sexual healthcare provider, not a general family doctor.
  3. Do the best you can to be honest with that provider and fill them in on your health history–as well as the current status of your relationship and how you feel about your sexuality and sex life–in as much depth as possible.
  4. Try what they suggest, be that a switch in a medication, a visit to a nutritionist, more masturbation, talk therapy, drinking more water, really only having sex when you are VERY aroused and that’s what you want, taking some time away from intercourse or, most likely, using lubricant as needed. Your doctor may even suggest using a vaginal lubricant daily, even if you aren’t having sex that day.
  5. In the midst of all of this, whatever the result, take a look at your own body image, sexuality and gender issues. If you have ideas like that being dry sometimes isn’t feminine or womanly, like you’re “less of a woman” because you’re not dripping wet 24/7, or that something is wrong with your body for most likely functioning normally, see if you can’t work on ditching those ideas. It might help to remember that not all women have vaginas in the first place: Being a woman or feminine isn’t only about body parts.

Of course, if you just do NOT want to use lubricants, you don’t have to. That is likely to make some kinds of sex, or sex sometimes, less pleasurable or more uncomfortable. It also can mean things like winding up with UTIs or other infections more frequently. But if you feel better with those risks, you get to make that choice. Again, at times when you’re not lubricating, you also have the option of simply not having the kinds of sex where you need lube added, such as oral sex.

But it shouldn’t crush your ego to need or want lube, any more than it should crush your ego to need or want a haircut, salt on your food or to live in a decent neighborhood. Adding something to increase our enjoyment has nothing to do with our self-worth or with “succeeding” at sex. And using lubricant–whether it’s a need or a want–or being dry sometimes does not make a woman any less of a woman, does not make anyone less sexy, does not mean something is wrong with your body or your sexuality. Is a man not a man because he isn’t erect on demand or all the time? No? (Hint: Your answer should be no.) Well alrighty, then.

Speaking of men, I get letters from men saying they don’t like wetness. I get the same letters when it comes to dryness. However, I can’t recall a single time when I have ever gotten a letter from a man who has a problem with using lube himself or with a partner (perhaps in part because plenty of men use it for their own masturbation). So, when I hear someone tell me what “men” love, it’s always filtered by the knowledge that there are no absolutes with anything to do with sex. People of all genders like and dislike many different things.

Lube feels good. I don’t know about you, but one big reason I engage in sex is to feel good. That strikes me as perfectly harmonious. I don’t feel like I’m failing in any way when my partners and myself are feeling really good and sex rocks.

Obviously, you get to make up your own mind here and make your own choices. But I’d suggest that no matter what choice you make, an attitude adjustment on this stuff–not just on lubricant, but on not comparing oneself to other women and on realistic ideas about sexuality and the way your body functions–is going to benefit you. Most of what I hear in letters like this is that the attitudes expressed and the stress they create are getting you down far more than the issue of lubrication. And I’d say it’s certainly natural to change our attitudes or ideas for the sake of a healthier sexuality and self-esteem and a sex life we enjoy more.

Adapted from a post originally published at Scarleteen.com.

Have a sex, sexual-health or relationships question you want answered? Email it to Heather at sexandrelationships@msmagazine.com. By sending a question to that address, you acknowledge you give permission for your question to be published. Your email address and any other personally identifying information will remain private. Not all questions will receive answers.

Photo from Fickr user Lil’ Latvian under Creative Commons 2.o.

Comments

  1. As a trained sex educator for an upscale lingerie and novelty boutique, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard women say they “don’t need lube.” Lube isn’t always about need! It just makes everything more fun and frisky. It isn’t a knock on a woman or her age/abilities/arousal. It just makes things nicer. Let’s hear it for the lube!

  2. Two words: coconut oil.

    • If latex condoms or other latex barriers aren’t being used, absolutely! And for someone who is in that spot and wants some kind of bridge around what’s “natural,” you’re right, a more organic lube solution might be just the thing!

  3. This was really helpful!

    I have been sexually active for about 13 years and am soooo used to hearing “oh you get so wet!” all the time, so lube never really figured into my sex life, even though I buy it and keep it in my nightstand because I like shopping and sex toys and being ready for everything sex-wise. So I never thought I had shame around lube.

    Fast forward to this year, after 13 wet years:

    My newest partner sometimes would suggest lube when things got a bit difficult, and I would always delay it, being like “well, hmm, just a sec, let’s see if we really need it, maybe we can do without, hmm”. Then my amazing feminist partner pointed out to me that I was resisting lube for some unknown reason. I couldn’t figure out WHY I was doing that. I think you really touched on the reasons here Ms. Corinna – like why do we sometimes see it as a “failure”? I don’t see it as a failure if I need a glass of water during sex! Or if my body “fails” at being warm enough and I need to pull on the covers – haha.

    I am trying to let go of those hang-ups and it has led to great experiences. Yay fisting! Yay lube!

    Thanks so much for this piece. It was advice I didn’t even really know I needed!

  4. Let’s not forget that if we’re not getting aroused enough, it’s highly possible that the man isn’t doing enough in the foreplay department to get us aroused and wet. If this woman gets wet during masturbation, odds are, it’s the man who’s not making it happen.

    • Obviously, in this person’s case, “the man” is appropriate since she’s only talking about male partners. But to broaden that for everyone, by all means, not being aroused enough can have plenty to do with what is — or is not — happening with a partner. Mind, that doesn’t mean a partner has the power to “make” arousal happen: they really don’t.

      But a partner certainly has the capacity to, with the other person involved sharing that information, make sure the sex they are having — of all kinds, including the kinds of sex some people call foreplay — is sex that turns their partner on, keeps them turned on, and that they enjoy. So, here’s hoping that when a partner asks why this person doesn’t “get that wet,” that if they know or suspect this is about not being all that excited or interested in what’s going on sexually, they’re piping up and filling them in on what they know, if anything, DOES not only increase lubrication for them, but increases arousal and excitement, period. :)

  5. Catherine Ford says:

    I liked the advice, and have one addition: KY is probably not the best lube out there! Especially not the old-fashioned goopy kind. So, one way to have more fun with lubes is to get a nice, slippery lube. (Water-based if you are using condoms.) Have some fun with shopping, while you are at it. :)

    • True enough! I wish everyone had access to good sexuality shops, where the array of lubes available is wonderfully staggering. Unfortunately, standard pharmacies rarely carry the really good stuff.

      But of course, for someone with an internet connection and a debit card, the lubey-world awaits. Shops like Babeland or Early to Bed have online stores.

  6. Cactus Wren says:

    I think one part of this issue might stem from the recent-ish use of “get wet” as a synonym for “become aroused” (as in, “I got wet when I saw him without his shirt” or “Just thinking about tonight gets me wet”); it’s easy to work backward from this to the entirely false notion that if a woman’s not “wet”, that necessarily means she’s not really aroused.

  7. Manycolored says:

    Lube is good. But do not stick with drugstore lube (KY, Astroglide) or even fancy sex toy store lube if you are having issues with its ingredients. There are at least three brands out there that are all natural ingredients, no petrochemicals, parabens, etc. This can be a lifesaver if you’re prone to UTIs and yeast infections. I also find that it smells nicer and showers off easier.

    (YMMV – if you’re allergic to an ingredient, it could be very unpleasant, so try a spot test before frolicking!)

    Emerita – found in the food-coop and a few other natural grocers
    Aloelife – found this in my food co-op
    Oceanus – available from drugstore.com

  8. Dryness can be a symtome of a more serious health risk. If you also have dry mouth and/or eyes ask your dentist or doctor about Sjögren’s Syndrome which is characterized by dryness everywhere. If the professionals don’t know about Sjögren’s go to the Foundation’s web site.

    And for heavens use lube. Sex is supposed to be fun!

    • By all means, like I said, it’s always sound to be sure to check in with a sexual/reproductive healthcare professional. For sure, for more people rather than less, this won’t be a physical issue. But it will be for some, and for those who it is, tending to whatever health issue is at the root of this is going to be essential, and a person isn’t likely to experience changes if they don’t.

      Also a good reminder that all providers aren’t created equally, so if you have a feeling the issue really is physical, I say to trust your gut instincts and seek out second, third or fourth opinions. You might also make one of those a provider who works outside Western health.

  9. I recently found out I probably have Sjogren’s Syndrome, which makes all mucous membranes dry out. So, the eyes, sinuses, mouth, throat, vagina, and internal organs all become dry. It also involves nerve pain in the hands and feet, and fatigue. It can be very mild (I thought my symptoms were caused by other issues) or it can become more serious (decreased saliva flow can make you lose your teeth, and internal organs can be harmed.) It may be something to check out if you are experiencing dryness all over. There are ways to help it, like using lube for sex, sucking on mints or chewing gum, using eyedrops, and some experimental medications and natural remedies.

  10. This is by far one of the better sex columns. Why? Because the author is not locked into male chauvinistic attitudes towards sex. So many sex “experts” are such libido killers but not Heather Corinna.

    BTW, I’ve love to get rid of the word, foreplay. I liked how Corinna said, “the types of sex that are often described as foreplay.” She didn’t endorse the word foreplay but realized that so many people are so locked into that word that she had to use it.

    • I agree, Kathleen! If oral isn’t “real” sex, then why is it called oral *sex*? For some people, that’s the extent of their activity for a given session. It doesn’t have to be foreplay.

    • Kathleen, thank you for such an incredible compliment. That really made my whole day.

      And I agree with you: I think everyone would actually benefit a lot from either ditching “foreplay” as a term, or rethinking it as perhaps things people do before they are sexual in any way. For instance, what if what ‘foreplay” is is how we talk with one another? Cooking together? Dancing?

  11. Has anyone used the Hathor Organics lube? That’s awesome stuff.

    • Love, love love that we’ve got a few comments here with readers adding in their own awesome-lube suggestions!

      Around a year ago, after a lifetime of living primarily very urban, I moved to a rural island. I don’t buy lubes here, but out of curiosity, looked at the section that has them in our lone store that carries them at all, sadly to discover it was nothing but KY. I thought to myself, “What a pity that everyone on the island who doesn’t know to buy lube elsewhere has to be so poorly lubricated.” :(

      I’ve kept who I am and what I do on the down-low here, for the most part, kind of relishing the privacy, but I’m going to wiggle out of my private shell enough to talk to the purchasers there about this, inspired by all of you. Because you’re right, of the array of lubes available, it’s one of the least awesome, and even if I don’t buy mine here, it stinks that for residents who do, this is what they’re limited to.

  12. “being dry sometimes does not make a woman any less of a woman, does not make anyone less sexy, does not mean something is wrong with your body or your sexuality.”

    I hadn’t realised we were supposed to be considering blaming ourselves when we aren’t aroused during sex.

    Did you mention the possibility that the guy might be just bad in bed? In which case your advice should be – dump him.

    • That’s a very common thing we hear from women with these complaints, delphyne, a self-questioning of femininity, which is why it’s included. I’d very much say, like I think I did there, that we very much should not be blaming ourselves.

      I talked about arousal here, which involves her partners. But this is also an edit of a much-longer piece, where I went more into depth with her on all the possibilities. :)

  13. ‘From my understanding there are glands near the entrance of the vagina that are supposed to produce lube to help the penis enter the vagina.’

    I’m lesbian and I find this sentence pretty offensive. What about fingers and other sex toys?

  14. TeresaRebecca says:

    It sounds a bit like how some women think that supplementing breast milk with formula means that they’re a failure as a mother/woman.

  15. This post makes it sound like the only kind of sex is the kind where a penis is in a vagina. The clitoris is a woman’s most important sex organ and without lubrication, stimulation of it would be very uncomfortable (by the woman herself, another woman, OR a man). Yes, sometimes sex includes a penis in a vagina, but shouldn’t women be able to break out of thinking that is the center of our sex lives when other kinds of things are so much more likely to make us feel good?

  16. I think this article is very interesting in that it brings to light a number of ways women (yes, women) can “reclaim” “wet” sex, broadly speaking. But, I’m really surprised that a man’s circumcision status is not brought up as a factor for lack of wetness at all (yes, at the moment I’m only referring to heterosexual genital sex, but I do recognize there are very many other types/experiences/preferences.) Men who are circumcised have harder, rougher, dryer glans (head of the penis) which makes it more painful for both partners during sex. Because the foreskin is largely absent or entirely gone, there is no natural gliding movement during sex that would otherwise be present with an intact man. Foreskin also provides a man with his own natural lubrication (why always rely on the woman??) In other countries where circumcision is not routinely practiced, there is no need for lubrication during male masturbation and there is no popular/cultural depiction or understanding of such–the foreskin is there to serve its function. But, in this article, the assumption, in parentheticals and as an afterthought, is that *of course* men use lubrication here. But they otherwise wouldn’t need to at all if part of their sex organs were still present and hadn’t been removed shortly after birth. The consequences of male circumcision are far more widespread than how it directly affects men–one of the many reasons for vaginal dryness and pain during sex for women is that they are having genital sex with circumcised men. Of course there are other reasons and entirely different circumstances for dryness. But one such factor that is completely overlooked here is definitely a male partner’s circ status.

  17. Victoria says:

    I would like to add that I was always a wet person when it came to sex. I did notice, however that my new partner is very inexperienced when it does come to foreplay and so I don’t produce any wetness. We would have to use lube. He doesn’t mind nor does he get frustrated about it. I sometimes do. Another thing is, when we go 2 weeks without having sex, I start getting wet naturally. When we engage in the “act” I dry up easily. And with my experience with different sex partners, I’ve noticed that circumcised men dry me up. Remember that only the opening of the vagina where the glands are located get wet. When an uncircumcised penis enters the vagina its only enough lube to let them in. After that, there is less friction (less drying) on the vagina. His extra skin does the rest of the work for his pleasure and for a woman’s as well. With circumcised penises, friction dries up the vagina and makes the sex uncomfortable for both partners, requiring more lube. I personally think uncircumcised men make sex more fun and feels way better.

  18. I tried KY and it’s not as good as cracked up to be. I tried it before and ended up with a yeast infection. I didn’t think anything of it. Thought it was just a woman thing that some women get from time to time. 3 months later we tried it again and yes…you guessed it, got the darn yeast infection again. I don’t use lubes anymore.

  19. never used lube until recently. didn’t like the sticky stuff from the adult store. We to a pure romance party and got a sample. Been married 11 years have uti so condoms not an issue and hubby is very generous with foreplay so always thinking don’t need lube. well tried this sample pack- Love the experience of lube with toys and foreplay and sex too…. but I learned after several speratic uses I develope a boil like sore somewhere down there….that leads to no sex until healed because it is gross and it really hurts. I don’t want to give up lube now but can’t deal with boils. I am very sensitive to stuff (even chemicals and minerals etc in water can cause itchy red blotchy spots on my skin) any completely natural skin and vaginal area safe lubes available? suggestions? vaginal wetnes is not really a problem with me at 31 but its helpful to have alittle extra something something for toys and foreplay.

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