Insufficient Lubrication

How Common is Inadequate Lubrication?

Approximately 40% of females in the United States have reported inadequate lubrication during sexual activity, making it the second most common sexual difficulty reported by females after low arousal. Inadequate lubrication is a physiological sign that a female is insufficiently sexually aroused. Sexual arousal is both a psychological and physiological response, and females often become frustrated when their bodies do not reflect their psychological feelings of arousal. Without proper vaginal lubrication, intercourse can be painful and can result in bodily injuries, such as chaffing or tearing of the vaginal mucosa (inner vaginal wall).

 How does Natural Lubrication Work?

Natural lubricant is primarily produced by blood plasma leakage (cells in the blood that hold other blood cells in suspension) that is derived from the increase in blood to the vulva during the sexual excitement phase. Small glands known as Bartholin’s glands located around the vaginal opening also secrete mucus during arousal. Stimulating the sensitive nerves located in the vagina and surrounding tissue causes vasocongestion (engorgement of the genitalia) and lubrication.  The lubrication produced is typically clear and odorless but can vary from person to person. The amount of lubricant produced is dependent upon levels of arousal and hormone levels—particularly estrogen and progesterone.


What Causes Inadequate Lubrication?  

Inadequate lubrication may be caused by psychological or physical factors. For females, sexual unresponsiveness is often tied to psychological issues. Any negative emotion such as anxiety, guilt, or fear during sexual activity may cause a lack of vaginal lubrication. Past traumatic experiences related to sex may also interfere with sexual responsiveness. Females with histories of sexual abuse, rape, molestation, or other negative experiences may have aversive responses to sexual contact. Another possible psychological cause of inadequate lubrication is conflict between a female and her sexual partner.  Such feelings of stress cause the body to produce higher levels of the hormone epinephrine, which interferes with the body’s sexual response cycle and therefore impedes vaginal lubrication. Feelings of sexual anxiety or worries concerning sexual performance can also hinder the body’s natural sexual response.

 Physical factors can induce vaginal dryness as well. Vaginal dryness is a common complaint among postmenopausal women due to changes in estrogen levels. Since vagina mucosas are sensitive to estrogen levels, postmenopausal females require more time for proper lubrication. Hormone treatment is a possible solution, in which estrogen tablets, creams, or slow-release rings may be administered orally or directly to the vagina. Hormone treatment increases estrogen levels in the body that are vital for natural lubricant production. Inadequate lubrication may also result from drug abuse or side effects of various medications. Antidepressants or antianxiety medication, tranquilizers, thaizides, spironolactone, narcotics, nicotine, alcohol, and sedatives impede sexual arousal and therefore inhibit natural lubrication. Diabetes, scleroderma, hypertension, and heart or kidney disorders are also associated with sexual unresponsiveness. In such instances, a medical doctor should be consulted for possible treatment options.

 How can I treat inadequate lubrication?

 There are various ways to remedy inadequate lubrication. An inexpensive and effective solution is to use personal lubricants during sex—such as K-Y Jelly® or Astroglide®. However, if the cause of inadequate lubrication is psychological not biological, proper communication is often the best treatment for inadequate lubrication. Open and honest conversation allows a person to express possible fears about sexual contact, performance anxiety, or any other negative feelings. Expressing such emotions allows a person to understand their partner’s perspective and offer warmth, empathy, and reassurance. Couples can discuss ways to make each partner feel more comfortable and relaxed when engaging in sexual activity. If your partner struggles with inadequate lubrication, it is very important to be patient and sympathetic. Sexual problems are a common source of discord in relationships, and they must be dealt with together as well as individually.

 Most often, inadequate lubrication is simply due to insufficient amounts of foreplay. Extending time for foreplay allows the female to become more psychologically and physiologically aroused. Ensuring that both partners have received equal amounts of foreplay is not only fair, but it also allows for an increase in sexual gratification for both parties. More often than not, females do not receive adequate amounts of foreplay before engaging in coitus (penile/vaginal sex), making proper lubrication extremely difficult. A partner should never expect certain sexual acts (e.g., fellatio, cunnilingus, and/or manual stimulation) without reciprocity. Using sex toys during foreplay is an excellent way to spice up your sex life and increase arousal.  Many females find that they are initially extremely aroused and lubricated during foreplay and only experience inadequate lubrication during penetrative intercourse. Using an artificial lubricant during coitus can solve this issue.

Many people also find that sensate focus is a wonderful technique for promoting arousal and lubrication. Refrain from faking sexual arousal and/or sexual gratification: faking an orgasm will only magnify the problem, creating potential feelings of resentment and distrust. Finally, a female can still have a happy and healthy sex life even if she continues to have problems with lubrication. Experimenting with different lubricants and ways of applying them will ensure that sex is still fun and enjoyable.

 Personal Lubricants

 Personal lubricants (also known as “lube”) offer a solution for those who either do not lubricate enough or do not lubricate at all. They can also be used to enhance different sensations or create novelty, regardless of whether partners lubricate enough or not. For instance, some lubes are flavored, while others offer a warming sensation.  Lubricants work by reducing friction between body parts during sexual activity. They can be used by partners engaging in sexual activity or during masturbation.  The amount and location of application of personal lubricants can be left to the discretion of the female and/or partner. However, it is often recommended to use about a teaspoon-size amount directly in the vagina and the surrounding vulvar tissue. If using a condom, a small pea-sized amount can be placed inside the tip of the condom before placing it on the penis. More lubricant can be added on the outside of the condom to further decrease painful friction. Lubricants can be purchased in any drugstore or marketplace and are also available online.


Types of Lubricants


  • Water-based lubricants are the most commonly used lubricants. They are water-soluble, which means they dissolve in water. Therefore, water-based lubricants are incompatible with sexual encounters that involve water, such as in shower-, bathtub-, or pool-based activities. A common problem associated with water-based lubricants is their duration time. These lubricants tend to dry out quickly, but they can be reapplied as necessary. Examples of water-based lubricants are K-Y Jelly® or Astroglide®.
  • Silicone-based lubricants last longer than water-based lubricants because they are not absorbed by skin or mucus membranes. In addition, they do not dissolve in water, which makes them compatible for water-related sexual activities. They also offer a different sensation than water-based lubricants. Examples of silicone-based lubricants are Wet Platinum® and Pink®.
  • Oil-based lubricants are only recommended for females who have experienced irritation from over-the-counter lubricants and do not use condoms. Oil-based lubricants cause condoms to lose their elasticity, thus raising the risk that the condom will break or slip off. Therefore, if you are not in a committed monogamous relationship and are using condoms, be sure to use either water or silicone-based lubricants, not oil-based lubricants. Examples of oil-based lubricants are baby oil, Vaseline®, and even whipped cream.

 When using personal lubricants with a partner, make sure that they do not contain  nonoxynol-9 (n-9), a spermicide that has been shown to cause skin irritations and tears that allow viruses (especially HIV) to be transmitted more easily. Nonoxynol-9 can also increase the likelihood of acquiring a vaginal yeast infection or urinary tract infection.



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Last Updated: 21 October 2014.