Slippery When Wet
Today in super-exciting things you wouldn't have known without science: lube helps women enjoy sex. I know, you never would have figured that one out on your own. Sarcasm aside, one of the things scientific studies on humans aim to do is determine whether conventional wisdom -- like that lube will help your sex life -- is true or not. In many cases the results are a big fat duh, but that doesn't mean such things aren't worth studying. Sometimes scientific results go against conventional wisdom. Sometimes nuance is added. Sometimes these studies give lazy bloggers something to write about on a Monday night when they have a deadline approaching (I'm sorry, I have a headache tonight and it's making me uncommonly blunt). Researchers at Indiana University' Center for Sexual Health Promotion have just published a study on the association between lubrication use and women's pleasure during both solo and partner sex, and the results will surprise exactly no one. I don't mean to pick on the authors, who have in fact conducted a fairly rigorous study on a question that hasn't been previously well-studied at in a scientific context. We tend to take for granted that lube helps women enjoy sex, but selling sex products is big business and it's worth asking whether such products are actually doing the job they claim to. It's just that the results of this study are an anticlimactic, "yup, it works great."
To test the effects of lubrication on women's sexual pleasure and whether lubrication lead to any negative symptoms, one of six lubricants was randomly assigned to 2,453 women aged 18-68 who were instructed to use the lubricants in their sex lives and keep a daily diary. The study was conducted over five weeks. Participants were instructed not to use the study lubricant for the first week (although they were allowed to use lubricant of their own choice if it was part of their normal sexual routine), then to use it during the second and third weeks for any sexual activity, whether alone or with a partner. For the last two weeks subjects were asked to resume normal sexual activities without the study lubricant. The daily diary consisted of questionnaires which asked about sexual activities, sexual pleasure, and genital symptoms. The lubricants distributed to the participants (in plain, unmarked containers so that neither subjects nor researchers knew which lube was assigned to the subject) included 4 water-based lubricants (Astroglide, Just Like Me, K-Y liquid, and Sweet Seduction) and two silicone-based lubricants (Pure Pleasure and Wet Platinum).
The researchers don't directly compare sexual events without lubricant to those with (possible because the participants were allowed to use lubricant during the control weeks, as long as it wasn't the study lubricant). Instead they compare sex-with-lubricant to all sex events. During vaginal only sex, the study participants reported the event as "very pleasurable" over 60% of the time. With lubricant, those numbers are 65.7% and 64.4% respectively. The difference is more striking for anal sex - 60% of all anal sex-only encounters were rated as "very pleasurable," and about 50% were rated as "very satisfying," while with lube those values jump to 85.6% for "very pleasurable" and 80.6%. for "very satisfying." Over 40% of all solo sex acts were rated "very pleasurable" or "very satisfying," while with lube 54.7% were rated "very pleasurable," and 50.8% were rated "very satisfying." Both types of lubricant were found to increase subjects' pleasure during penile-vaginal sex and solo sex, but only water-based lubricant increased the pleasure of anal sex.
As for negative symptoms associated with sex, 9.4% of women experienced entry pain during penis-in-vagina sex without lubricant. 4.1% reported entry pain with water-based lubricant, 10.6% reported entry pain with silicone-based lubricant, and 6.2% reported pain with their own lubricant. General discomfort and pain after penetration were also more common without lube or with silicone based lubricants. Most strikingly, 5.0% of events were associated with burning and 3.5% with bleeding with the use of silicone lubricants, compared to 2.2% burning and 0.7% bleeding without lubricant and 1.5% burning and 0.4% bleeding with water-based lubricants. These rates are still low, but they indicate that women may be more likely to have a reaction to silicone-based lubricants. It's worth noting that this study excluded women with known allergies to lubricants. If you've never used lubricant before or want to try a new brand it's always a good idea to test it before using it during sex, since some people are allergic to certain lubricant ingredients, and it's probably best to start with water-based lubes. Symptoms for anal sex are not reported, but one can assume they are probably similar.
The availability of sexual lubricants is a great boon to many women's sex lives. There is a bit of a stigma against using lubricant, at least for vaginal sex, because it's assumed that if a woman is turned on enough her natural lubrication will always be adequate for sex to be pleasurable, but that simply isn't true. Women's natural lubrication varies with age, place in the menstrual cycle, and use of the pill, not to mention personal variations. Sometimes no matter how hot you are, you need a little extra help, sometimes one runs out of natural resources during marathon sex sessions, and frankly sometimes you don't want to wait around for foreplay to get things flowing. Surveys indicate that 62% of women in the US have used lubricant at some point in their lives. Given the results of this study, it might be a good thing if those numbers increase. The study did not compare the brands of lubricant used, only water vs. silicone based, so there's no indication if one particular brand performed better than another. As with most things, everyone is likely to have a preference and a particular brand that they prefer. It's best to take the time to shop around and find one that's right for you especially if you experience any genital symptoms with lubricant use. (Both Babeland and Edenfantasys have good selections, complete with user reviews, if you're too shy to hit the local convenience store for it.)
Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she's had a little whiskey.
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