Vaginal dryness can occur at any age but it’s more common during menopause and postmenopause. It’s estimated that around 50% of postmenopausal women experience vaginal dryness, which can lead to symptoms such as irritation and painful sex, and that somewhere around 90% of women are not pursuing treatment – choosing to simply ‘tough it out’.1 If you’re among them, using a vaginal lubricant is one of the first steps you can take to reducing this uncomfortable friction and making sex more enjoyable again.
Choosing and using a lubricant for the first time may come with some questions. In this article, we take a closer look at how these inexpensive, over-the-counter products can make sex during menopause better. We also provide some tips on what to consider when shopping for a lubricant that can best suit your needs.
Why May a Woman Need a Vaginal Lubricant in Menopause?
The body's production of the hormone estrogen begins to decline during perimenopause into menopause. Because estrogen helps to keep vaginal tissue hydrated and elastic, this decline can result in a decrease of natural vaginal moisture. As a result, many women may experience dryness, irritation, and burning that can even make sex painful.2
Common Symptoms That a Vaginal Lubricant Can Help
Research shows that vaginal lubricants can improve women's sexual wellbeing.3 Using a vaginal lubricant before sex can help to reduce friction, which can aid in reducing pain or discomfort caused by vaginal dryness and its associated symptoms. This can help to make sex more pleasurable for both you and your partner and perhaps even make it easier to achieve an orgasm.
And while lubricants don't directly improve menopausal symptoms, like low libido or decreased sexual arousal, they can sometimes help indirectly. You may feel more excited about sex when it feels good and you're less stressed about pain or dryness. That, in turn, can stimulate more blood flow to your vaginal tissues to help in the creation of more natural lubrication.4
What Is a Vaginal Lubricant and How Should It Be Used?
Vaginal lubricants are over-the-counter liquids or gels that can be applied before or during sex to make the vulva or vagina wetter. Lubricants can also be applied to a partner’s penis or a sexual toy to make them more slippery – which can ease insertion and make sexual activity more comfortable.5
Lubricants are meant to be used on an as-needed basis, just before or during sex. They're typically applied to the vulva (your outer genitals) and within the vagina. There's no right or wrong amount to use. You can experiment and apply as much as feels good to you and your partner.6
Common Types of Vaginal Lubricants
Lubricants come in three types7,8:
- Water-based lubricants are inexpensive and gentle on your skin, and they won't stain your clothing or sheets. They also don’t negatively impact condom integrity. However, they’re not long-lasting and tend to develop a tacky feel, so you may need to reapply them during sex.
- Silicone-based lubricants have a slightly higher price point, but they tend to last longer during sex. They’re also gentle on your skin and again won’t damage the integrity of a condom - they can, however, potentially damage silicone-based sex toys. They're also not the best choice for couples where a male partner has erectile dysfunction. Their slick texture has the potential to decrease friction too much, so that it may be harder for the partner to maintain an erection.
- Oil-based lubricants are long-lasting, but they do have the potential to irritate your skin. The oil in these lubricants can also break down condoms, if you and your partner are using them. Oil lubricants are also more prone to staining your clothes or sheets, too. You can find over-the-counter, oil-based lubricant products specifically designed for sex, or you could consider a neutral oil like olive, almond, or coconut oil. Be sure to check in with your healthcare providers with any questions before trying something new.
Healthcare providers generally prefer water – or silicone-based lubricants over oil-based ones – since they're less prone to causing irritation. It's also a good idea to steer clear of products that contain parabens, or those that are designed with flavors, scents or are designed to be warming or tingling, especially if you’re sensitive. These types of lubricants might irritate already-delicate vaginal tissue or even cause a burning sensation.9
That said, the best lubricant is one that works for you and your partner. So, feel free to experiment to find the one that you like the most.
Are There Any Downsides to Using a Vaginal Lubricant?
Not everyone likes using lubricants during sex. Some may find them messy or disruptive. Oil-based lubricants, in particular, can also irritate your skin and can cause condoms to break down, which can increase the risk for STDs or pregnancy.
You should also try to avoid using petroleum-based products, such as Vaseline or mineral oil, as a lubricant. This can potentially cause vaginal irritation, plus it's hard to wash off your skin.10
Other Options for Vaginal Lubricants
Vaginal lubricants can be helpful for reducing friction and pain upon insertion that can be caused by vaginal dryness when you're about to have sex. But you'll get even better results when you pair them with other products aimed at reducing vaginal dryness in the long-term.
- Vaginal moisturizers: Over-the-counter moisturizers work to add hydration to vaginal tissue over time. They're best used regularly, just like a face or body moisturizer.11 They come in the form of vaginal inserts or as creams that can be applied to your vulva.
- Vaginal Estrogen/hormonal therapies: Estrogen creams, tablets, or rings work to deliver a low dose of estrogen directly to your vaginal tissues to reduce vaginal dryness and pain.12 Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider first, when considering hormone-based solutions, as they know your medical history best and can advise what may be right for you.
Talking To Your Healthcare Provider
Some women find that they're able to manage their vaginal dryness and painful sex with vaginal lubricants and moisturizers alone. But you should let your healthcare provider know if over-the-counter products aren't doing enough. Together, you can discuss additional treatment options that can help to address your menopausal symptoms so you can enjoy sex and feel your best, again.