All you need to know about the benefits & different types of lubricants

Lubricants are liquids or gels used during sex to temporarily help relieve dryness and friction instantly. They can be applied to both male and female genitals in order to make sex more comfortable and pleasurable. You can choose from a variety of lubricant brands which are widely available without a prescription in pharmacies, supermarkets or online.

What is lubricant used for? 

For women, lubricant is mainly used when vaginal dryness makes sex difficult or uncomfortable.

There are lots of causes of vaginal dryness: 

Lack of stimulation

Insufficient stimulation or lack of arousal prior to sex can mean your vagina has not produced its natural lubricant. This can make penetration uncomfortable and even painful.

Breastfeeding or childbirth

Oestrogen levels may diminish after giving birth and this can make your vagina feel drier than normal.

Cancer treatment

Chemotherapy, hormonal cancer treatments and radiotherapy to the pelvic area can have the side effect of vaginal dryness.

The menopause

As oestrogen levels decrease during the menopause, vaginal dryness may become persistent.

Certain types of contraception

The combined contraceptive pill and contraceptive injections have been reported to cause vaginal dryness, though it’s uncommon.

Vaginal dryness can also be caused by an underlying condition such as diabetes or Sjögren's syndrome (a condition affecting the production of bodily fluids like tears or saliva). If you have persistent vaginal dryness, your GP can help you establish what's causing it and how to relieve it. 

There are many reasons for men, as well as women, to use lubricant. Some of these reasons include erection problems and difficulty reaching orgasm. Using a lubricant in those instances can make sex more comfortable and relaxing.

What are the benefits & advantages of using lubricant? 

Lubricant diminishes dryness and friction during sexual intercourse. The reduction in friction makes condom breakage less likely and can make sex more pleasurable and comfortable for you and your partner. 

Sexual problems affect nearly one-third of young and middle-aged women and about half of older women. Some of these problems include trouble orgasming and pain during sex. Pain during sex can be especially common in women who have gone through the menopause. As oestrogen levels decrease, the vagina can become dry. 

In these cases, lubricant may be used to help increase stimulation or relieve pain from friction. If you experience pain during or after sex, visit your GP or a sexual health clinic for advice. If you continue to have trouble reaching orgasm, it may be best to seek advice from a sex therapist. 

When are lubricants needed? 

Lubrication – either natural or synthetic – is necessary for most sexual acts to be carried out comfortably and pleasurably. Natural lubrication is produced by the body during a state of sexual arousal, but it isn't always sufficient, can vary depending on where in her menstrual cycle a woman is and usually reduces over time. As well as vaginal sex, lubricants can also be applied before: 

• Male and female masturbation

• Anal sex

• Oral sex

• Use of sex toys

To use lubricant, wash your hands first, then apply the desired amount around the vagina or spread on the penis. Remember, you can always begin with a small amount (a few pea-sized drops) and increase the amount when needed. If you’re using the lubricant on a condom, make sure the type of lube you use is appropriate for your needs, as oil-based lubricants can damage latex condoms. 

What types of lubricants are available? 

Lubricants are generally water-based, oil-based or silicone-based.

Water-based lubricants are usually inexpensive. They generally don't stain fabrics, are widely available and easy to wash off. Importantly, they can be used with condoms without affecting their strength. Some disadvantages are that they can dry out quickly, may feel slightly sticky and are not effective in water. 

Oil-based lubricants are longer-lasting, compatible with polyurethane (latex-free) condoms, non-sticky and remain effective in water. They do, however, come with some significant disadvantages. The main problems are the possibility that they can weaken latex condoms, causing them to tear. They can also stain fabrics and can be difficult to rinse off. 

Like oil-based lubricants, silicone lubricants are long-lasting, can be used underwater and are non-sticky. They can also be used with all types of condoms. Their downsides include being relatively expensive compared to other lubricants, having a bitter taste, staining fabrics and being slippery or difficult to rinse off.

There are also vaginal moisturisers which help keep the vagina moist for up to three days available from your pharmacist.

If a certain lubricant causes irritation, you should wash it off with clean water and stop using it. You could try another type to see if it works for you.

Avoid using products like massage oil, baby oil and petroleum jelly (Vaseline) as lubricants. These can cause irritation and damage latex condoms. Certain medication to treat conditions like thrush (such as creams and pessaries) can also weaken and cause damage to latex condoms.

Remember, lubricants are not contraceptives and will not protect you from sexually transmitted infections.

Next steps

• Find out which type of lubricant is best for you – silicone-based, water-based or oil-based

• Always follow the instructions provided with the lubricant

§The Mtick symbol has been developed with Gen M to signpost menopause-friendly products or services that relieve, ease or support one or more of the 48 signs or symptoms of menopause.