Sex reduces stress, relieves pain, and that after-sex glow even makes you look younger. You can take advantage of these and other health benefits of sex while maximizing your pleasure by using a lubricant. In fact, women who used lubricants during sexual activity had more pleasurable and satisfying sex, according to a 2009 Indiana University study.
“Lubricants are chosen by many couples to enhance sexual pleasure by decreasing friction and irritation,” says Matthew Wosnitzer, MD, urologic surgeon specializing in male infertility, and instructor at Weill Cornell Medical College/New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
In fact, more than half of men and women have used lubricants during sex, according to two studies published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Here are six things to consider before you use a lubricant, straight from the experts.
1. Pain Means Something. Lubricants often contain lidocaine and benzocaine to lessen discomfort, said Rachel Needle, PsyD, Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida, and executive director of the Whole Health Psychological Center in Florida.
“However, these ingredients can dull or numb the skin and lower pain perception. But pain tells us if something is tearing in our body. This is important to know as someone can end up being hurt and because possible tears can increase the risk of transmission of STIs [sexually transmitted infections],” adds Dr. Needle.
2. Watch for Sugars. “I don’t think there’s a particular lubricant that everybody should avoid, [but] there are some ingredients that affect women,” says Hilda Hutcherson, MD, associate dean for diversity and multicultural affairs at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia Medical Center in New York City.
“For instance, glycerin, which is a sugar derivative, can cause increased yeast infections in women who are susceptible to yeast infections.” Lubricants with other sugars, like some flavored lubricants, can also be irritating for some women.
Dr. Hutcherson recommends AstroGlide, which now has a non-glycerin variety, the KY brand of lubricants, and Lelo.
3. You Can Still Conceive. “The ideal lubricant is one which does not harm sperm and mimics the cervical mucus pH (acidity level) and consistency, and has antioxidants that may be helpful to sperm,” says Dr. Wosnitzer.
Pre-Seed lubricant is one of the few lubricants with clinical studies to support its safe use in couples trying to conceive, he adds.
4. Consider Your Sensitivity. “There are some lubricants that are warming, tingling that have menthol-like components and for some women that is extremely irritating,” says Hutcherson.
“For women who are not sure, I would say use a tiny bit on one side of your labia as a test; and if you find that it irritates, it burns, it’s uncomfortable, then don’t use any more of it,” says Hutcherson. “Never use something for the first time during intercourse. Test it before if you’re concerned that it might be an issue.” She recommends buying a variety pack of lubricants with different ingredients and textures to determine which one works best for both of you.
5. Try Au Naturel. “People have certainly used coconut oil and other household oils — the biggest complaint being that you can’t use a condom when you have that kind of oil because it breaks down latex condoms. The other thing is it messes up your sheets,” says Hutcherson. If you do decide to use a household oil as a lubricant, be sure to use a non-latex condom, she adds.
“Petroleum-based lubricants like Vaseline and mineral oil are not really great to use internally as they take quite a while to get out of the system and can cause irritation,” says Needle. However, natural oil-based lubricants like vegetable oil or corn oil are safe, she says.
Want to go au naturel but not use household oils in the bedroom? Try drinking lots of water. “If you’re dehydrated you’re going to have difficulty making lubrication,” says Hutcherson.
6. It’s Totally Normal. Some people find that applying lubricants interrupts sex while others are worried about what their partner will think of them if they cannot lubricate on their own.
“I think that everybody needs to have lube — everybody is going to need it at some point and it’s not unnatural to need it," Hutcherson says. "Just make it available and on those days when you feel you need it just incorporate it into foreplay and don’t be afraid of it, and try different types. Have fun with it.”