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Why You Should Consider Using Personal Lubricants During Sex

by | May 7, 2024 | SEXUALITY

personal lubricant

Whether oil, silicone, or water based lubricants, they’re available in every drugstore and sex store yet most still think there is no in-between from the audiences that use, say a lick-able scent based personal lubricant, to an individual with sensitive skin, to a postmenopausal couple needing more lubrication. There’s a lot to get into so. be prepared to have your mind blown!


The Science Behind Personal Lubricants


Before one can fully understand who might benefit from using a lube, we first need to explain osmolality and why it’s so important. When we talk about the osmolality of lubricants, we’re referring to how concentrated the solution is and how it compares to the natural osmolality of bodily fluids, such as vaginal secretions.


According to the Global Consultation on Personal Lubricants Meeting Report, vaginal secretions have osmolalities of 260–370 mOsm/kg and semen 250–380 mOsm/kg. Generally, the osmolality of a lubricant or substance should be no more or less of an 80-point difference to maintain the cellular integrity of the tissue, however, most personal lubricants on the market range in the 2,000–6,000 mOsm/kg.


This common hyper-osmolality causes water to be drawn out of the epithelial cells lining the cellular wall of the affected tissue and causes cells to die and slough off, leaving these tissues irritated, inflamed, and more susceptible to infection, STIs, and in the case of the vaginal wall, bacterial vaginosis (BV).


What’s more, is that most people will not necessarily feel these effects, and this information on osmolality is not commonly discussed or advertised, despite the rigorous process that sexual lubricants undergo to be deemed medical devices. In fact, only two lubricants on the market fall into an optimal iso-osmolar range.


Most lubricants on the market rely on glycols, mainly Glycerol and propylene glycol, to prevent lubricants from “drying out” and to make them feel warmer and drier. However, glycols are a main ingredient that contributes to higher osmolality and cell sloughage in the vagina and rectum.


For those who have chronic conditions or persistent vaginal dryness and rely on lubricants for support inside and outside the bedroom, the lack of education and transparency regarding this important aspect could potentially open the door to a host of other issues.


The Global Consultation on Personal Lubricants states that “The mucosal ecology of the vagina plays an important role in preventing disease. A moist, rich environment, the vagina can harbour STD (STI) pathogens, such as chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV, as well as different types of vaginal flora: yeast, E. coli, bacterial vaginosis (BV), and others. When there are healthy amounts of lactobacilli in the vagina, the good bacteria battle the bad, killing these pathogens. However, only a minority of women have a ‘normal’, healthy balance of lactobacilli.”


Therefore, it’s essential to choose a lubricant with a similar osmolality to vaginal fluids to ensure optimal comfort and safety during sexual activity. Water based lubes often have osmolalities closer to that of vaginal secretions compared to silicone based lubricants or oil based lubricants, which are more commonly used for anal tissue.


Best Personal Lubricants for Different Types of Sex


What about Anal Sex? The anus and rectum do not produce natural lubrication, making it essential to lubricate. Unlike the vagina, the anus is alkaline, needing a completely separate lubricant to benefit the sensitive tissue and microbiome. The same risks present themselves for anal play, however potential risks for the rectum are less to do with osmolality and more to do with pH.


As the vagina is acidic, using a lubricant for the vagina that is pH balanced and optimized for this tissue will disrupt the natural alkaline state of the rectum causing the entire layer of epithelial tissues to shed. As increased friction from sex and lack of moisture can degrade tissue, increasing irritation, and potentially leading to micro-tears, it also increases the risk for increased infection and STIs due to a disruption in the microbiome and cellular degradation. Personal lubricants can work to reduce friction leading to more comfortable sexual experiences.


Opt for a pH-balanced based personal lubricant, petroleum-free, paraben-free, silicone-free, and oil-free lubricant, such as Bum-Bumz Intimate Arousal Gel specifically formulated for the specific needs of the anal tissue.


“As the CEO of Desert Harvest, a sexual health and wellness company offering support and products to those with debilitating chronic diseases, mainly Interstitial Cystitis (IC), we realize just how much misinformation is out there surrounding how to support your sexual well being.” – Heather Florio, CEO of Desert Harvest


Personal Lubricants and Sexual Health


Learning how to advocate for your sexual health is an important piece of this conversation, as we still are in the age of disregarding the experiences of large bodies of people with symptoms that don’t fit into the researched norms. Not being able to withstand certain chemicals and additives in medical-related everyday products is akin to offering sugar to a diabetic and wondering why they might be reacting negatively to them.


We need to focus on these conversations about health in the age of marketing – that just because anyone can make a product and market it well, doesn’t mean it’s good or healthy or beneficial for us, and certainly not that it is linked to any sort of research. Something intended to provide more comfort during intimacy could contribute to more sexual health issues.


So who benefits from using a lubricant? Lubricants can offer support and sensation to anyone, whether alone with the help of sex toys or coupled, throupled, etc. Using the correct lube for those who are sensitive, have pelvic pain, pain or burning with sex, can make a major night and day difference. Maybe it’s not in your head, maybe you’re just using the wrong lube.


Learn more about Desert Harvest’s iso-osmolar and pH-balanced Aloe Glide Vaginal Lubricant and Bum-Bumz Intimate Arousal Gel.

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Ingrid Harm-Ernandes, PT, WCS, BCB-PMD, has been a physical therapist for 39 years and began specializing in women’s health more than 27 years ago. During her tenure at Duke University Health System, she treated a wide variety of pelvic patients in the Urogynecology and Physical Therapy clinics. In addition to her role as the Co-Director and a mentor for new Pelvic PTs in the Duke Women’s Health Physical Therapy Residency Program, she was responsible for the Women’s Health team program development and participated in Pelvic Floor Disorder Network (PFDN) research projects. As a Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Women’s Health Physical Therapy (WCS) and Pelvic Floor Biofeedback, Ingrid also served on committees for both the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and the American Urogynecologic Society (AUGS). She published “Assessment of the Pelvic Floor and Associated Musculoskeletal System” in the December 2021 FPMRS Journal, focusing on the importance of recognizing and assessing the pelvic musculoskeletal system. As a pelvic health PT specialist, Ingrid has addressed a myriad of pelvic health conditions that dramatically impact women’s lives, such as urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, pain with sex, prolapse, fecal incontinence, constipation, pregnancy, and post-partum issues. She readily shares the depth and breadth of her knowledge with health professionals, women, and the general public. In 2021, she published “The Musculoskeletal Mystery: How to solve your pelvic floor symptoms”. This book helps to better educate patients and practitioners about women’s bodies, pelvic health conditions they may suffer, and what pelvic physical therapy is all about.



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