The I-Don't-Want-to-Use-Lube Blues

Ever since I lost my virginity I haven't been able to get very wet. Tightness is not a problem, but my boyfriend keeps complaining that I won't get wet and we have to work over and over again just to get him inside. I don't like using lubes so is there a reason it's like this? I'm on birth control pills so I think that may be it but what can I do to get wetter without using lubes?
Heather Corinna replies:

and Nadine asks,

My boyfriend and I have been having sex for a month and to be fair we have only tried five times. The last time we tried I was completely aroused and when we started actually having sex it was fine at first. However, after some time my arousal suddenly went away for no apparent reason and I had no feeling of either arousal or satisaction which confused me. This turned into discomfort so I had to stop my boyfriend from carrying on.

On a different note, sex has never been pleasurable and rather uncomfortable for me which is kind of ruining our sex life. I was wondering if I need lubrication to help me out and if so is something wrong with me? I worry that if I used lube it would still be unpleasurable for me. I've read columns on this website saying that it's normal for a woman not to orgasm during intercourse, but is it normal to not feel pleasure AT ALL? I find it a kick to the ego knowing that I need a store bought item to ensure pleasure during intercourse. Please help.

and iDance asks,

I've always had this problem: even when I'm fully aroused, I don't seem to produce any lubrication, or very very little. I'm guessing that this also answers why sex isn't pleasurable for me. I don't know anyone with this problem, and have never heard of it either. Please help me.

and Haily asks,

I'm a 22 year old female. I have been with my partner for 3 years now and I have not orgasmed. I can do it on my own by clitoris stimulation. I find it hard to get in the mood, and get wet. Even if I feel horny and want sex I'm always dry down there. It's very heart breaking not to have good sex with someone you love so much. It sometimes ends with me bruising. We have used lube but I would rather be wet naturally as I've been told the previous girls he's had have had no worries. I've even gone off the pill to see if it makes a difference to my libido and also not using condoms. I don't want to break up with him over this. I only want us to have good sex.

and Tina asks,

Why don't I produce enough natural lubricant during sex? There is nothing wrong with me physically. I'm 34 now but I've always been like this so age is not really a factor! I'm envious of woman that talk about how wet they get. Men love when it's super wet but I never had that experience. They always ask why don't I get that wet? I feel like something is wrong with me. The outside is never really wet. Once we get started the inside is moist/wet but not really dripping wet. I hate to use lubes! I don't want to depend on KY for the rest of my sex life. Sex was the wettest during my pregnancy. There has to be a solution other than use lubes!!!! From my understanding there are glands near the entrance of the vagina that are supposed to produce lube to help the penis enter the vagina. I don't think mine work!!! Doctors just say use lube. Help!!!

I have a confession to make. Every now and then, when I find this concern in my inbox -- essentially, this notion that wanting or needing an additional lubricant is some kind of personal failure, or like going without has some sort of elevated status -- I just sit here and scratch my head for a few minutes. Because I just don't get it. I see people getting really upset and crazy over something when they don't have to be.

Actually, let me clarify that.

I certainly get people with vaginas having issues with vaginal dryness: that isn't at all uncommon (and I'd put little stock in what a cis guy tells you about it per his previous partners: let's listen to what to people with vaginas have to say for themselves), particularly when we're talking about vaginal sex and heterosexual, cisgender women. It's common. It's even more common for people with vaginas to be lubricated enough often, but only gushing out geysers occasionally. The idea they are constantly flooding the bedroom with vaginal lubrication every time they have sex just isn't based in reality.

I also get why people have the idea that sex should somehow be movie-screen seamless all the time, at any time, without making any adaptations. I can even understand how that's a nice fantasy for some folks. After all, there are a lot of places that enable those unrealistic ideas and put them on a pedestal. Many people are also not that well-versed in the history of human sexuality and don't know that to a large degree, women's pleasure with partnered sex -- and in general -- is something that has really only started to be addressed in the last 100 years. Even that's pushing it: when we're talking about REALLY addressed we're only talking about the last 20-30 years. If that.

We know that historically that lack of address and well as a whole host of cultural norms about sex based primarily on men's sexuality, ideas and wants when it comes to women's bodies have meant that a LOT of women have had a LOT of not-at-all pleasurable sex through history and still do now.

We also know that sexual lubricants are nothing even remotely new.

They couldn't always be purchased in stores, mind you, but through human history people have used all manner of things as a sexual lubricant: butter, oils, honey, saliva, animal fats and guts -- you name it, if it's slippery, it's probably been used as a lube. So far as we can gather, many people have used lubes for as long as people have been having genital sex.

Here's the part I don't get: if a lubricant makes sex feel better, why not use it?

When you eat, you probably season your food and try to make something that tastes good, rather than which is just nutritious. When you get dressed, you probably dress for more than just function, and likely don't wear nothing but homemade clothes created with organic fibers. There are likely any number of things you do in your lives that are not naturally-derived or organic: I'm often one of the only people I know, for instance, who has a bike instead of a car. I grow some of my food, but I buy a lot more of it, and you probably do, too. I avoid pesticides, but you probably don't. I use mostly green products in cleaning my place, but I'm in the minority on that. I'm not a fan of cosmetic surgeries, but I am tattooed and pierced. I might understand this attitude a little bit more coming from die-hard naturists, from those who want every aspect of their lives to be as organic and natural as it can, or from folks who are working very hard against consumerism and want to have as much in their lives be as DIY or home-crafted as possible. But that's not usually who I hear from on this.

More times than not, I'd say that the people I hear from on this seem are fine with every OTHER aspect of their lives being unnatural or less than natural but only in sex feel everything needs be 100% organic. Even for the hardcore naturists we're not usually talking about, one just has to be realistic and reasonable. Again, so far as we know, many people have been using some from of lubricant forever at least some of the time.

Kari asks,

I'm 21yrs old I've been having sex with my boyfriend for like 8 months now. I have realized that I don't get as wet as what I used to when we first started having sex, but even so I also don't feel that I get as wet as when I was younger! What can I do to fix this problem? I have tried gels and other products, but I prefer the natural way.

It's pretty iffy to suggest that one wants everything to be "natural," when it's clear that your given natural state is not being lubricated, not being lubricated enough, or getting dry at some point. That, for you -- and many people with vaginas sometimes -- is what's natural. But you're not down with that, and that's understandable.

However, the natural response, really, would the be to avoid or stop having the sex at that time which requires lubrication your body isn't providing, right?

But if you don't want to do that, if you want to "go against nature" in this respect, then it's probably adding a lubricant which is your best bet.

Let's take this idea about "natural" sex to its logical conclusion. If you really, truly, want to be 100% natural when it comes to sex, that means a few things. For starters, if you're in an opposite-sex partnership, it means going without most methods of birth control, or all methods, depending on how you look at it. It means never protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections by using latex barriers or getting STI testing. It would mean going without a lot of reproductive healthcare to assure your health or take care of sexual health problems. It also would mean only doing things that your body is 100% up to doing, as-is, at any given time. Heck, it would mean not using the net to ask me this question in the first place.

I think it's reasonable to presume, then, that if and when a vagina is not lubricated enough, or at all, we could interpret that as the vagina -- in it's 100% natural and unaltered state -- either making clear that the "natural" thing would be for nothing to be put inside it at that time -- to not have those kinds of sex then -- or, if you decided vaginal entry was still natural, that it'd be natural, then, for sex to be uncomfortable or painful.

And I just don't buy that way of thinking. Rather, I don't see that as a good answer when we look at the big picture.

We don't have to become pregnant when we don't want to anymore. We don't have to put ourselves at a big risk of STIs anymore, even if we're still choosing to be sexually active. And, if we want to, we can have kinds of sex we want if and when our anatomy isn't being entirely cooperative with what's needed to make that sex as pleasurable as it could be. We also have the option of opting out of any kind of sex now if our bodies aren't being responsive and we don't want to make adaptations or additions like using a lubricant. All of these options, in my book, are good options, life-improving options for women (and people of all genders). They are things we didn't use to have which have made our quality of life better.

I'll let you think about all of that while I move on to addressing the whys of vaginal dryness.

Why aren't people with vaginas always wet?

It is normal for vaginas not to either be wet all of the time, wet enough for comfort and pleasure all of the time, or wet throughout all of a sexual endeavor all of the time. People with vaginas do indeed have glands which produce vaginal lubrication, sometimes called "vaginal sweating" when we are aroused. How much we produce tends to depend on a lot of different factors, though, and be not just individual, but also situational: we won't always produce the same amount of lubrication every day, every year, every decade, or in every relationship or sexual situation.

Sometimes, how lubricated we are also is related to our fertility cycle and the chemical changes in our bodies: for instance, when we're most fertile, our cervical mucus is very thin, fluid and slippery, but during times of our cycle when we're less fertile. Menses is also a time when we're a bit more lubricated due to the addition of our menstrual flow. During pregnancy, people often have increased amounts of vaginal discharge, which can make you feel more lubricated (though some people find the opposite is true for them).

Vaginal dryness can also occur for other common reasons like:

  • certain medications, like hormonal contraceptives, SSRIs (antidepressants) or allergy medications
  • smoking
  • certain health issues, like diabetes, hysterectomy, pregnancy, yeast or bacterial infections or allergies
  • cancer treatments
  • sexually transmitted infections
  • dehyrdation
  • low or decreased libido (sexual desire)
  • not having sex as often as you're used to
  • menopause or perimenopause (at which point, if you want to have vaginal sex, for many people, lube just will no longer be optional) or declining levels of estrogen for some other reason
  • stress, fatigue, depression or anxiety
  • sensitivity to things like laundry detergents, vaginal washes, douches, and any other chemical in your environment

Too, keep an eye on if this is only happening with your partner, or is also happening when you masturbate. Sometimes, we're just not feeling it with a partner, and it's the relationship or sexual dynamics which are the root cause of dryness and a lack of enough arousal to produce adequate lubrication.

After all, the most common reason for vaginal dryness is a plain old lack of high sexual arousal or desire. Consider that it's possible that what you think is a lot of sexual arousal may not be so much after all: it just may be as high as you've experienced it so far, and as your life goes on, your attitudes about sexuality change, you have different relationships or sexual experiences, you may well discover that you can be a lot more aroused later than you have been to date.

It's precarious and provocative, but I feel like I should probably also address that it's possible that vaginal intercourse -- from the perspective of people with vaginas, at least -- may well be a more reproductive activity than a sexual one. In other words, we already know it is the activity which can get us pregnant, and we also know that intercourse, all by itself, often doesn't stimulate our most sexually-sensitive parts and that the majority of people with vaginas don't get off with intercourse.

So, if we're looking to have intercourse be this thing that we're always ready for every day of the month, or always get super-excited about (which is going to be tough for people who know it's not going to result in orgasm and/or be all that exciting), that our sexual selves are always all into, that simply may not be a very realistic expectation, especially without some additions, like adding manual sex or masturbation to intercourse, or like adding a lubricant when we need one because it feels good. That may also mean changing the way we have sex so that intercourse isn't our main course, but a more occasional kind of sex.

I think it's sound to entertain the theoretical possibility -- though this may well not be correct or speak for the sexual reality or experiences of all people with vaginas -- that there's a reason vaginal intercourse is often most comfortable when we're ovulating (and thus, have some extra lubrication due to the changes in the fluidity of our cervical mucus), because that just may be an activity which is more about making babies than having sex. That isn't to say it's all it has to be, mind you. It doesn't, especially if that isn't all it's about for you (I know when I have it, it's certainly not for me). Rather, I'm merely suggesting that using lubricants with some frequency for vaginal sex that's about pleasure, not just procreation, makes sense for more than one reason. For those talking about wanting things to be natural, and avoiding lubes while still having intercourse, that may be something to think about.

If the issue is about partners (or you) having unrealistic expectations of your body, the problem isn't your body: it's those expectations. By all means, self-lubricating usually is part of high levels of sexual arousal, so if you're just not aroused enough, you both can remedy that by doing more to GET you aroused, and being sure you're only having sex when you want to, and having the kinds of sex you find pleasurable and exciting. But how much, how little, and when people with vaginas will self-lubricate still varies a lot between people. You and a partner need to accept your body as it is: part of partnered sex is celebrating just that, the uniqueness of our bodies. Our expectations of our bodies or those of a partner sexually shouldn't be based on anyone else, but only on each other.

So, what would I suggest as a plan of action for persistent vaginal dryness that's driving you nuts?

1) See if using lube helps, and if so, use it when you need to. Yep: I suggest that first, particularly if you want to have comfortable vaginal sex while still investigating if there isn't an actual problem that needs address. Alternately, take a break from sex full-stop until you experiment with some other alternatives.
2) See a sexual healthcare provider who earnestly provides sexual healthcare. In other words, you're probably going to want to see an OB/GYN or sex therapist, not a general family doctor, and you're going to want to ask that healthcare provider about their background in sexual health, and if they feel equipped to really deal with sexual issues. If they don't squirm or turn red when you ask that, or blow you off, that's a very good sign.
3) Do the best you can to be honest with that healthcare provider and fill them in on your health history -- as well as the current status of your relationship and how you feel about your sexuality -- in as much depth as possible.
4) Try what they suggest, be that a switch in a medication, a visit to a nutritionist, more masturbation, talk therapy, estrogen creams, drinking more water, really only having sex when you are VERY aroused and that's what you want, taking some time away from intercourse, and -- most likely -- using lube as you need to. Your doctor may even suggest using a vaginal lubricant daily, even if you aren't having sex that day.
5) In the midst of all of this, whatever the result, take a look at your own body image, sexuality and gender issues. If you have ideas like that being dry sometimes isn't feminine or womanly, like you're "less of a woman" because you're not dripping wet 24/7, or that something is wrong with your body for most likely functioning normally, see if you can't work on ditching those ideas.
6) Let go of negative attitudes about lube and -- once more -- use it when you need to. Really, truly, honestly, feeling frustrated and disgruntled and either avoiding lube, or staying frustrated when you're using lube, is only going to be one more way to keep yourself from self-lubricating (stress inhibits arousal, after all) and having your sex life be something you truly enjoy.

Of course, if you just do NOT want to use lubricants, you do not have to.

That is likely to make some kinds of sex, or sex sometimes, less pleasurable or more uncomfortable. It also can mean things like winding up with UTIs or other infections more frequently. But if you feel better with physical discomfort or less pleasure than you do with using lubes, then you get to make that choice. Again, you also have the option of simply not having the kinds of sex where you need lube added -- oral sex, for instance, comes with its own lube -- at times when you're not lubricating at all or enough on your own.

But IF you have ruled out everything else, tried other solutions, still seen no results and want to have kinds of sex where lubrication is essential for your pleasure (and vaginal health) when your body isn't lubricating itself, the only solution left is to add a lubricant. And I, personally, do not see a simple addition to make things feel better for everyone -- rather than making yourself suffer and be heartbroken for no good reason -- as any sort of failure.

In other words, it shouldn't crush your ego to need or want lube, any more than it should crush your ego to need or want lipstick, salt on your food or to live in a better neighborhood. Adding something to increase our pleasure or enjoyment of something just has nothing to do with our self-worth, or with "succeeding" at sex or anything else. And using lubricant -- whether it's a need or a want -- or being dry sometimes does not make a woman any less of a woman, does not make anyone less sexy, does not mean something is wrong with your body or your sexuality. Is a man not a man because he isn't erect on demand or all the time? No? Well alrighty, then.

I'll risk being a little TMI here and saying that I'm often a decently juicy girl myself (which likely has a lot to do with my only coming into sexual situations when I very strongly want them: when I'm not feeling it, big-time, I nix sex), but I always have several bottles of different lube here at Chez Heather and pretty much use lube all the time, even when I have my own lube going on. Why? Well, for one, with partners with penises, I use condoms for safer sex and birth control and that lube helps condoms feel best for my partner and for me and also helps to keep them from breaking. Even when I don't have a partner with a penis, or what I'm doing isn't intercourse, I prefer more slippery-slidy to less when it comes to my genitals, and in more extended sexual sessions one or both of us is usually going to want some lube just because it feels better. genitals rubbed raw don't tend to feel good. Lube also tends to increase genital sensitivity. It helps reduce my risk of abrasions and infections -- and same for my partners -- by keeping my genital tissue uninjured. It's just plain fun. (It should also be said that in relationships between women and in the lesbian community, we generally don't see this same hangup about lube, for plenty of reasons which are probably obvious, the central one being that we enjoy pleasing women and being pleased as women and know that slippery = yay. In other words, as far as I can tell, this hangup about lube is usually a straight-girl hangup.)

Lube feels good, and one big reason I have sex is to feel good: that doesn't strike me as discordant, but as perfectly harmonious. I don't feel like I'm failing in any way when my partners and myself are feeling really good and sex rocks: how could that be a failure?

Obviously, you get to make up your own mind here and make your own choices. But I'd suggest that no matter what choice you make, an attitude adjustment on this stuff -- on lubricant, on comparing oneself to other people, on realistic ideas about sexuality and the way your body functions -- is going to be a very good thing that benefits you and everyone around you. Most of what I hear in letters like this is the attitudes expressed, and the stress they create, getting you down far more than the issue of lubrication. It's certainly natural to change our attitudes or ideas, and for the sake of a healthy sexuality, self-esteem and overall life, I'd strongly advise it. I think everyone included in this piece will fill a whole lot better making that kind of adjustment.

P.S. In terms of male expectations of wetness, I get letters from men concerned that their partners with vaginas being wet is a problem, or saying they don't like the wetness. I get the same letters when it comes to dryness. I can't recall a single time when I have ever gotten a letter from a man who has a problem with using lube himself or with a partner (perhaps in part because plenty of men use it for their own masturbation and get that there's nothing wrong with that). So, when I hear someone tell me what "men" love, it's always filtered through a career of finding out early that we can never claim any absolutes with anything when it comes to sex or gendered ideas about sex. People of all genders love many different things and dislike many different things. We can certainly say that most people really love it when their partners are very turned on, for sure, but realistically, just like being very turned on doesn't always mean erections for men, neither does it always mean lubrication for women. It's really important that what we love can be in alignment with what everyone's physiological realities are.

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