Vaginal Lubrication: Facts and Tips

A healthy vagina secretes natural lubrication to keep the vagina moist and reduce friction during sex.  Glands near the cervix produce fluid which changes over the menstrual cycle and provides sperm with a friendly environment during a woman’s fertile period to help conception take place - this is what is known as “cervical mucus”. This fluid also keeps your vagina lubricated and moist on a day-to-day basis, and its quantity varies depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. 

However, when you’re aroused, you may notice extra fluid, this is also known as being “wet,” but this is not the same as cervical mucus. Instead, the Bartholin glands, which are located near the opening to the vagina, and the Skene glands (by the urethra), produce extra lubrication during sexual arousal. The amount of fluid you produce from these glands also depends on factors like age and hormones, which means hormonal changes like menopause can also affect your ability to produce lubrication during sex. This means that sometimes you may need help from an artificial lubricant, especially if your doctor recommends it for any pain or discomfort during sex, or if you suffer from vaginal dryness. Learn about vaginal lubricants here, including what they are, what types are available, and which one may be right for you and your needs. 
 

What is a vaginal lubricant?

Typically, the vagina lubricates itself thanks to fluids secreted by Bartholin glands near the opening of the vagina, and the Skene glands close to the urethra, when you have sex. However, if you suffer from vaginal dryness it can make sex uncomfortable.  If this is the case you may need a little extra help from an artificial vaginal lubricant. 

Using a vaginal lubricant can help relieve discomfort during sex by supplementing the natural vaginal fluids, providing moisture and comfort during intercourse. 

When is a lubricant needed?

If you experience vaginal dryness you may experience soreness, irritation, or pain when having sex.  Using a vaginal lubricant can help make sex more comfortable.

You may experience vaginal dryness: 

  • If you are taking certain medication or medical treatment that can cause vaginal dryness.
  • After pregnancy or childbirth.
  • If you’ve gone through menopause. 
  • If your vagina doesn’t produce enough lubrication.

One of the main symptoms of vaginal dryness is that you feel itching or pain in the vagina during sex.  If you have any concerns about itching or pain, you should see your doctor.  

Type of lubricants

The good news is, there are plenty of vaginal lubricants to choose from. Below are the different types, along with the pros and cons of each so you can find the right one for you.

Water-based lubricant

This type of lubricant is the most commonly available. It comes in two varieties, one with glycerine and one without glycerine. 

Water-based vaginal lubricants are easy to find, and are generally known to be safe to use with condoms.  

If you are sensitive to vaginal irritation, such as yeast or bacterial infections or you have sensitive skin, a glycerine-free water-based lubricant is generally the best choice. 

Glycerine is a type of sugar, so there are a couple of things to consider when using a water-based lubricant with glycerine. Firstly, this type of lubricant is more likely to need reapplying as it can dry more quickly due to its sugar content. Secondly, high sugar levels may contribute to vaginal yeast infections, like thrush.  

Synthetic oil-based lubricants

Synthetic oil-based lubricants, are based on oils like mineral oil. These lubricants claim to only be suitable for external use, like masturbation, and not really recommended for use inside the vagina. 

Oil-based lubricants can destroy latex, so they are not suitable if you’re using latex condoms.  They can also be harder to clean out from your body after sex, and this can lead to vaginal infections.

Silicon-based lubricants 

This type of lubricant is generally tasteless and odourless and has a slippery and smooth texture. It usually lasts the longest out of any type of lubricant and doesn’t need to be reapplied as often as a water-based lubricant. Silicon-based lubricants are generally safe to use with latex condoms and hold up underwater as well. Plus, they are hypoallergenic.

Keep in mind, though, that a silicone-based lubricant is harder to remove and you’ll need soap to wash it off which can be irritating to the sensitive vaginal area.

Natural lubricants

Natural vaginal lubricants refer to lubricants made from botanicals or other eco-friendly materials. These are often made from organic and vegan ingredients that are free from parabens. 

Some claim that the organic ingredients are more sustainable and are also safe for your vagina. However, on the downside, these types of lubricants tend to have a shorter shelf life and can be on the expensive side.

Which type of vaginal lubricant is right for you?

Not sure which is the right vaginal lubricant for you? Check out the table below.

Please note, the following information in the table are general statements based on product claims or generally known scientific data. For a specific country, product, or skin type the statements may not hold. Check the specific labelling on the lubricant you wish to use. And check with your doctor if you have any concerns, and to check if any specific product should be used or avoided. 

Type of lubricant  Pros Cons
Glycerine-Free, Water-based
  • Widely available 
  • Generally inexpensive 
  • Generally safe to use with condoms 
  • Claims to be safe for use in the vagina
  • Generic taste is bitter 
Glycerine, Water-based
  • Widely available 
  • Generally inexpensive 
  • Generally safe to use with condoms 
  • Claims to be safe for use in the vagina
  • Can dry out more quickly
  • Can cause yeast infections
Water-based, sperm friendly
  • Widely available 
  • Generally inexpensive 
  • Usually doesn’t stain
  • Claims to be safe for use in the vagina
  • Sperm-friendly, so won’t affect your fertility while using the lubricant during sexual intercourse
 
Synthetic, Oil-Based 
  • Generally inexpensive 
  • Widely available 
  • The NHS does not recommend the use of oil-based lubricants  with condoms 
  • Hard to clean off  
  • Can stain fabrics
  • Claim to only be suitable for external masturbation 
  • Can cause vaginal infections
Silicone-based 
  • Long-lasting
  • Claims to be safe to use with condoms 
  • Claims to hold up underwater 
  • Hypoallergenic 
  • Claims to be safe for use in the vagina 
  • Hard to wash off
Natural 
  • Sustainable 
  • Claims to be safe for use in the vagina 
  • Shorter shelf-life 
  • More expensive 

Vaginal lubricant vs vaginal moisturiser – are they the same?

A vaginal lubricant and a vaginal moisturiser have different purposes. If you have vaginal dryness, then a lubricant can help prevent discomfort during sexual intercourse. A vaginal lubricant will give you temporary moisture to prevent any friction, but it won’t help resolve the vaginal dryness itself. 

A vaginal moisturiser or a vaginal dryness cream, on the other hand, can help with the everyday symptoms of vaginal dryness, like itching and irritation, but most won’t usually give you the lubrication you need for sex, as it is absorbed into the skin. Instead, a vaginal moisturiser or cream can be used to help ease the symptoms of vaginal dryness day to day. 

Even if you use a vaginal moisturiser, you may still want to use a vaginal lubricant when you have sex.

How to use vaginal lubricants

Use a lubricant by putting it in or around your vagina or on your partner’s penis. Follow the instructions for the lubricant you use for the amount to use. 

You may need to reapply if you feel it drying up of if you need a little extra for the right amount of coverage. You may find it helps to warm the lubricant in your hands before using it or include it in foreplay. There isn’t really a right or wrong way to use it effectively so experiment with it and see what works for you and your partner. 

Do lubricants affect fertility and the chances of getting pregnant?

Many lubricants can affect sperm motility, and can reduce the sperm’s ability to move effectively, which can affect your chances of getting pregnant during sex. So, if you’re trying to conceive (TTC) the lubricant you use does matter. 

Look for a water-based lubricant that is a sperm-friendly or a fertility-friendly lubricant, as this type of lubricant doesn’t decrease sperm motility. It comes the closest to creating the conditions you’d have with natural vaginal lubrication.  

Other risk factors, side effects of using lubricants

Most lubricants are safe to use and are unlikely to have side effects. However, there are some types that could lead to irritation or infections in your case. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about which lubricant is best for you. Also, if you do have vaginal dryness, note that a lubricant won’t treat the vaginal dryness itself, but your doctor will be able to recommend a personalised treatment plan. And if you have any allergies, make sure you check the ingredient list before using. 

FAQs about vaginal lubricants

  • What is a good lubricant to use?

    It really depends on how you want to use the lubricant. For example, if you want to use it for vaginal sex and not just for masturbation and foreplay, then a glycerine-free water-based lubricant, a silicone-based lubricant, or a natural lubricant could all be good options. If you are TTC, then you will want to use a fertility-friendly lubricant.

  • What lubricants are safe for conception?

    Look for water-based lubricants that are designated as sperm-friendly but ask your doctor for a recommendation if you’re looking to get pregnant.

  • What is the best lubricant for menopause?

    If you suffer from vaginal dryness due to menopause, you may need to use a lubricant to help make sex more comfortable. Most lubricants like water-based lubricants should be fine for sex during and post menopause. You can try a few out or ask your doctor for recommendations.

The bottom line

Natural vaginal lubrication is necessary for a healthy sex life, but if you suffer from vaginal dryness, due to menopause, childbirth, or a medical condition, you may want help from an artificial lubricant.

With all the lubricants out there, it can be daunting to know which one to use. Now that you know some of the differences between the different types of lubricants, it should find it easier for you to choose the right one for you. If you have any doubts or concerns, especially if you are TTC, your doctor can point you in the right direction.