Lubricants are commonly used to enhance sexual experience and help with a more comfortable insertion of dilators, sex toys, and pelvic wands. However, not all lubricants are created with the same ingredients and different types are recommended, depending on the activity.
In this article, we’ll discuss why women should use lubricants, the differences between water-based lubricants and silicone lubricants, the ingredients typically found in each, and when one is used instead of the other.
Water-Based Lube vs Silicone Lube: What’s The Difference?
Silicone-based lube is typically more slippery and longer lasting than water-based lube due to the combination of silicones used in its makeup, however, it is also not a good choice for many consumers due to its non-natural synthetic nature. Silicone lubricant is more difficult to wash off the skin and can leave stains on bedsheets that are difficult to remove.
That said, silicone lubricants are safe to use with latex condoms and come highly recommended for sexual activities in the bath or shower due to their long-lasting properties.
On the other hand, silicone-based lubricants cannot be used with sex toys, kegel weights, dilators, or pelvic wands made from silicone because silicone on silicone creates a reaction that destroys the outer layer of the instruments.
In contrast, water-based lubricant is considered the best all-purpose lube, safe to be used with all condoms, sex toys, dilators, and pelvic wands, even those made from silicone.
Related: Personal Lubricants vs Moisturizers
It comes highly recommended for women experiencing vaginal irritation or sensitive skin, it's easy to wash off, and it doesn’t leave stains on bedsheets. Water-based lubricants are typically less dense than silicone lubricants, meaning they do not last as long and can sometimes require reapplication.
When To Use Water Based vs Silicone Lubricant
A safe, water-based, vegan-friendly lubricant can be used in all sexual situations, to relieve vaginal dryness, sexual discomfort, friction, chaffing, or pain during sexual activity. Water-based lubricant is also safe to use for anal sex and with latex condoms, as well as silicone sex toys, dilators, and pelvic wands.
Although silicone lubricants cannot be used with latex condoms, silicone sex toys, or dilators, some women prefer the thicker viscosity, and they are also considered longer-lasting for sexual activities in the bath or shower.
What’s most important when it comes to using personal lubricants is to understand the ingredients to avoid aggravating sensitive skin or upsetting the natural pH of the vagina.
Why Do Women Use Lubricants?
One of the main reasons women use lubricants is to moisten a dry vagina and reduce friction for a more pleasurable and comfortable experience during sex. While the vagina is designed to produce natural lubrication when sexually aroused, there are times in a woman’s life when that might not happen as quickly as expected.
During Certain Times of the Month
For women of reproductive age (15-49), estrogen levels typically drop on days 22-24 of the menstrual cycle, shortly before menstruation occurs. This drop in estrogen can result in vaginal dryness due to a lack of natural lubrication, which is directly linked to regular estrogen levels. During this time of the month, many women use a lubricant to relieve vaginal dryness or discomfort during sex.
Women typically begin the phase of perimenopause in their late 40s or early 50s, signalling to the body that the reproductive stage of life is coming to an end. During this time, estrogen levels begin to incrementally drop and the production of natural lubrication decreases, resulting in vaginal dryness, for which lubricants can help.
Menopause is diagnosed when a woman has passed 12 months without a menstrual cycle. This stage of life is known to occur anytime from age 44-55, however, it can happen later for some women and much earlier if the uterus is removed (hysterectomy).
Many women use lubricants during menopause to reduce chaffing, discomfort, or pain (dyspareunia) during intercourse and continue to have an active sex life well into their elderly years.
When Using Kegel Weights, Vaginal Dilators, Pelvic Wands, or Sex Toys
Vaginal dilators are medical instruments used to gently stretch a tight vagina and strengthen pelvic floor muscles, particularly for women suffering from dyspareunia, vaginismus, vaginal stenosis, pelvic floor disorders, as well as psychological anxiety surrounding intercourse.
Kegel weights are used to strengthen pelvic floor muscles and treat urinary incontinence. Pelvic wands are another medical instrument used to relieve pain and trigger points in the pelvic floor muscles.
Similar to sex toys, lubricants help to ease the insertion of kegel weights, dilators, and pelvic wands when the female genitals have tightened or become dry.
For Anal Sex
In contrast to the vagina, the anal canal does not produce any natural lubrication, so lubricant is always advised for anal sex. In addition, lubricant helps the resistance of the sphincter muscle to relax. Furthermore, the use of lubricant lessens the likelihood of a condom breaking or coming off during anal sex.
When Taking Certain Medications
Some medications are known to impact the production of estrogen and, in turn, natural lubrication. Oral contraceptives, other hormonal medications, antiallergens, and certain antidepressants can have this effect. When taking these types of medications, women find it helpful to use lubricant when using sex toys or having sex.
Personal Lubricant FAQs
Are Lubricants Safe to Use?
Water-based lubricants are considered safe due to the water-soluble ingredients used to make them and silicone-based lubricants are generally regarded as safe because they are not absorbed by the body.
That being said, any lubricants containing GMOs, parabens, or petroleum by-products are not considered safe for the vagina.
It’s also a good idea to check the ingredients of your lubricant before use to ensure that it’s free of synthetic colors, flavors, or fragrances that could irritate your or your partner's skin.
For those with sensitive skin, doing a patch test on a small part of the skin anywhere on the body besides the vagina is recommended before use. The absence of a reaction like a rash, hives, itching, or redness means it is safe to use.
Do Lubricants Alter Vagina pH Levels?
Much speculation has centered around the use of glycerin in lubricants, specifically that it alters the natural pH levels of the vagina and leads to an increased risk of vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections, and yeast infections. This claim, however, relates to when animal fat glycerin is used instead of vegan glycerin.
Microbiologists have recently confirmed that only pure vegan medical-grade glycerin should be used to make personal lubricants, and the same stipulation is now required by the FDA, but many lubricants made with animal fat glycerin are still sold, unapproved.
To ensure you are using a safe water-based lubricant, check the ingredient labels for the mention of vegan glycerin. Velvet Rose Personal Lubricant, for example, which is one of the few FDA-approved water-based lubricants on the market, is 100% vegan-friendly and pH balanced (4.0 – 4.4 pH) in keeping with natural vaginal pH levels.
Probiotic supplements are also helpful to maintain a healthy vaginal pH balance for those who are prone to vaginal infections.
Using lubricants allows for more comfortable and enjoyable penetration and intercourse, as well as increased fun with sex toys, and smoother insertion of kegel weights, pelvic wands, and dilators.
Whether you use water-based lubricant or silicone-based lubricant comes down to your personal preference, but it’s always best to check the label to ensure certain ingredients, like those mentioned above, are avoided.
Mayo Clinic – Vaginal Dryness - https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/vaginal-dryness-symptoms-causes-and-remedies
Office on Women’s Health – Menopause - https://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause
My Health Alberta – Female Sexuality & Cancer: Vaginal Dilators https://myhealth.alberta.ca/cancer-and-sexuality/female-sexuality-and-cancer/vaginal-tightness/vaginal-dilators
Cleveland Clinic - https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15723-vaginismus
Women’s Health – What Is The Difference Between Silicone And Water-Based Lubes? https://www.womens-health.com/silicone-water-based-lube-differences
Self – 10 Reasons Why You Should Use Lube During Sex - https://www.self.com/story/10-reasons-you-should-absolutely-use-lube-during-sex
Vegan First – Is Glycerin Vegan - https://www.veganfirst.com/article/qa-is-glycerin-vegan
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.