Natural Lubrication – What is it?
Vaginal lubrication isn’t just for sex, although that’s when most of us think about it the most. Aside from making sex of all kinds easier and more pleasurable, natural vaginal lubrication keeps the vagina and the vulva healthy and facilitates self-cleaning.
The pH of a healthy, pre-menopausal vagina is most often between a 3.8 and a 4.5, which means that the vagina is actually an acidic environment. This is why, if you have a vagina, you may have noticed that sometimes the gusset of your underwear will turn lighter over time from being exposed to completely healthy vaginal secretions. (It’s worth noting that I said pre-menopausal because menopause can actually cause your vaginal pH to rise. Remember this for later.)
So what controls vaginal lubrication? First of all, estrogen is the hormone most responsible for the production of natural vaginal lubrication. As a result, the amount of fluid that the vagina produces tends to change during the course of a menstrual cycle, because estrogen levels fluctuate. This is also why menopause tends to result in increased vaginal dryness.
Estrogen isn’t the only factor, though. Many common medications like birth control pills, antidepressants, and antihistamines can contribute to a lack of vaginal lubrication. This goes to show that if you’re in your 20s or 30s and wondering why you aren’t producing as much natural lube as you think is “normal”, medication could be a factor.
Arousal and Vaginal Lubrication
Remember the Ronda Roussey “gritty kitty” debacle? Long story short, Roussey claimed that if you encounter a dry vagina during sex, it means that you were lazy with respect to foreplay. She even boldly claimed that no one should ever need lube.
She was wrong.
See, there’s a difference between arousal and physical response. It relates to one of the best-kept secrets in sex education: Arousal Nonconcordance. (If you want to read about this concept in depth, I’d highly recommend Dr. Emily Nagoski’s book Come As You Are.)
The basic gist is that it’s very common for our mental state (arousal) to contradict our physical state (the presence or absence of lubrication and erection). In fact, your mental state of arousal may line up with your physical state of lubrication less than 20% of the time. This is why it’s so important to advocate for shame-free sexuality and collaborative consent practices — because a verbal, enthusiastic yes is the only foolproof way to know that your partner is ready to get down.
In other words, you might have spent an hour on amazing foreplay. You might even be super mentally aroused, only to find that your natural lubrication isn’t quite matching your mental or emotional readiness. And that’s okay.
What Can You Do?
If a lack of foreplay isn’t the issue, make sure that stress isn’t causing you to hit the brakes. If you feel stressed out, it can be hard to relax into the optimal mental and physical state for sex. All fine on that front? Then let’s look at some other options.
Using kegel balls or a kegel exerciser can be a great choice to increase vaginal lubrication. If you have sexy plans later, you can try wearing kegel balls for a few hours ahead of time in order to engage your muscles and increase blood flow.
If you’re already in the moment, you might find that some kind of direct stimulation helps. Whether you like manual stimulation, oral sex, or using a sex toy, just getting things started often helps.
When it comes to getting wet on short notice and with minimal effort, though, a quality lube is the way to go.
Choosing a Lube to Supplement Your Own
You’d think that choosing a lube would be simple, given the sheer volume of lube on the market today. But the fact is, a lot of widely available lubricants just aren’t that great for the vagina. It comes down to a few factors, chief among them being pH, osmolality, and ingredients1.
At different times in your life, you may need a different lubricant. As stated above, before menopause, the vagina is more acidic. During menopause, the pH may rise, and you can end up with some discomfort if you choose a lube with a lower pH.
Osmolality remains a constant concern across the lifespan. It refers to the concentration of a water-based lubricant. Ideally, your lubricant’s osmolality should be as similar as possible to that of the cells in your vagina. This ensures that the lubricant doesn’t damage your cells and keeps you wetter, longer.
Generally speaking, water-based lube is going to be the closest thing to your natural lubrication that you can buy in a store. It doesn’t last as long as silicone lube, but it’s often preferred because it plays nicely with all kinds of sex toy and condom materials and tends to be less expensive. You can even apply water-based lube on a daily basis as a moisturizer if you tend to experience an uncomfortable lack of natural lubrication.
If you’re pre-menopausal and looking for a simple water-based lubricant, Sliquid Sea is a great choice, with a pH of 4 and low osmolality to boot. It’s one of my go-to picks for all kinds of play.
Post-menopausal vagina owners looking for a water-based lube may want to try Sliquid Sassy, which is a little less acidic than Sliquid Satin, or Sliquid Satin if you prefer a runnier texture.
Looking for something with a little extra staying power? I absolutely love Sliquid Silk, which is a hybrid lube (containing both water and silicone). Because it contains 12% silicone, it outlasts purely water-based lubes, but doesn’t contain enough silicone to damage silicone toys.
Hopefully now you feel a little better-equipped to make well-informed choices. With all the misinformation out there – from the dry panty challenge to Ronda’s bad advice – it’s easy to feel mystified by the vagina’s inner workings. All you really need to do is pay attention to your own lubrication to find out what’s normal for your body, and supplement when necessary with a high-quality, body-safe lube.