Updated: Sep 14
The vagina does provide its own lubrication, but many factors can cause a decrease in vaginal lubrication, leading to painful sex. Some of these factors include medications, hormone changes, insufficient water intake, stress, or use of harsh feminine hygiene products or lubricants.
A woman’s natural estrogen levels play a large role in vaginal health. When estrogen levels are normal, the vaginal canal produces natural lubrication for things like tampon placement and vaginal intercourse. If estrogen levels are low, it can lead to vaginal dryness and irritation. The two primary populations that experience low estrogen levels are post-menopausal and post-partum women. Other factors contributing to vaginal dryness are medications, feminine “hygiene” products, insufficient water intake, and using the wrong lubricants. Poor lubrication can contribute to painful intercourse, tampon placement, and gynecological exams.
When purchasing lubricant, you want to avoid ingredients like parabens, glycerin, perfumes, dyes, and alcohols. Clean lubricants that are healthy for most tissues include Good Clean Love, YES vaginal moisturizer, or Durex Sensilube Hydrating Gel. These products can often be found at Target, Wal-mart, or Amazon. Coconut oil or olive oil are also natural ways to increase lubrication.
Silicone, Oil, or Water based?
Various types of lubricants contain different properties and main ingredients. This makes them more suited to different uses and knowing which product is best and safest for you is key.
Lubricants that are silicone based are generally condom compatible, gentle on fragile tissues, typically don’t impair sperm movement, and can be used safely both vaginally and anally.
These lubricants do not offer any moisturizing property to the tissue and should not be used with silicone based sex toys because they can cause the item to break down over time, especially the cheaper the product.
Oil based Lubricant
Oil based lubricants have many of the same benefits as silicone lubricants, but they shouldn’t be used with condoms as they can cause the condom to fail. Most oil based lubricants offer moisturizing properties, are sperm safe, and do not harm the natural bacteria that help the vagina stay healthy.
Water Based Lubricant
Generally water based lubricants are safe to use with condoms, but beyond this it is important to look at the packaging to note the pH level of the lubricant.
pH > 5.0 – These water based lubricants can be harmful to vaginal bacteria, change the natural pH level of the vagina, and may or may not harm sperm motility
pH < 5.5 – This more acidic pH is safe for vaginal pH and the bacteria that live in the vaginal canal.
Most water based lubricants do not offer moisturizing properties and can need to be reapplied as they don’t “stick around” as long as their silicone or oil based counterparts.
Decreased lubrication is not always the cause of painful sex. If the addition of a healthy lubricant does not eliminate your pain, talk to your doctor. You may need specialized pelvic floor therapy to address underlying muscle dysfunction.