I Am So Dry For You!
According to Roy J. Levin (2005, "Wet and Dry Sex: The Impact of Cultural Influence in Modifying Vaginal Function"), there are many countries (namely in sub-Saharan Africa, but also a few in the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America) where "dry" sex is the ideal that many women strive for. The opposite, "wet" sex, is stigmatized. Natural vaginal lubricant is often interpreted as a product of promiscuity or disease. As a result, many women will place powders, tinctures, or other substances into their vaginal canals in order to create a "dry" and "hot" environment. While a few of these products may possibly be harmless, most of the substances used are quite alarming. These include everything from talcum powder, sugar, rock salt, silica gel, aluminum hydroxide, stones, detergents and herbs, leaves, and cotton. Sounds about just as bad as putting nonoxynol-9 in your sensitive vaginal canal! (Nonoxynol-9 is an industrial detergent used as a spermicide on many condoms and almost all diaphragms and contraceptive sponges. Research conducted by the UN has demonstrated a higher risk of HIV infection with the use of Nonoxynol-9, presumably because of the vaginal lesions that the harsh chemicals cause.)
Lube is healthy and fun!
The irony that struck me as I was reading about one culture's bias favoring "wet" sex versus another culture's bias favoring "dry" sex, was that they both led to the shunning of lube! This, in and of itself, I suppose is fine except for the fact that not enough lube during sex is often uncomfortable, painful, and damaging! Too much friction can cause irritation, tearing, and other physical trauma. Not to mention, these injuries lead to more significant vulnerabilities. Breaking down the integrity of sensitive membranes that line the vaginal wall creates a higher susceptibility to infections and diseases.
According to a double-blind study of 2,453 women conducted in 2010, the use of water or silicone based lubricants versus no supplemental lube at all, greatly increased the pleasure of sexual experiences. The reasons women gave for using lube was primarily "to make sex more pleasurable," followed by "not enough natural lubricant," "using lubricants is fun," "like sex to feel very wet," "sex feels uncomfortable without lubricants," and/or "to reduce the risk of tearing." Other than stigma, reasons that were given for non-lube use were fear that the supplemental lube would create adverse effects on genitals (i.e. irritation or burning), or in the case of trying to conceive a baby, fear that the lube would affect sperm motility. (Herbenick, et al, 2010)
These specific fears have more to do with a lack of information about various kinds of lube. Nonoxynol-9, a spermicide, is a pretty horrid substance to put inside our bodies and, well, obviously affects sperm motility as it is a spermicide. Those that are prone to yeast infections should probably stay clear of lube with glycerin, as it is a sugar alcohol that can feed yeast (it is also what often causes water-based lube to become tacky). As far as trying to conceive, during ovulation our body creates a specific egg-white consistency of lube that helps the motility of sperm (sort of like creating a silky highway for those little swimmers), and there is specific "pre-seed" lube out on the market that can enhance our body's natural lube in this regard. There are so many "personal lubricant" options now that it would be pretty easy to learn about and purchase the right lube for you. Just like any product or food that we ingest or put on our skin, every body has different sensitivities and so if you experience resulting irritation, try a different lube. According to the aforementioned double-blind study, the water and silicone based lubes used in their study was rarely associated with "genital symptoms"—as opposed to a lack shown to help the symptoms of Vulvodynia and is frequently prescribed for use during penetrative sexual encounters for those with this condition.
So research has shown that lube is healthy, safe, and does not hurt our chances of conceiving (if using the appropriate lube). Taking it further, there has also been evidence to support that using good quality supplemental lube is healthier than not using any lube at all. That still leaves the stigma. A common one I hear around these parts (the U.S.) is that we should be naturally lubricated enough for comfortable sex if we are sufficiently aroused, and if we are not, then something is either wrong with our sexuality or our health. Well, as with most stigmatized subjects, these fears are based on a combination of not-enough information and misinformation. So let's continue with an explanation of how our natural lubrication works.
How "Wet" We Are is Not Directly Correlated to Our Level of Sexual Arousal
The vagina is a "potential" cavity in that it is a collapsed cavity. The anterior (front) wall rests against the posterior (back) wall. Natural lubrication is created to prevent both walls from clinging together. As you can imagine, this would be really uncomfortable. This natural lubrication comes from several sources, namely from nearby glands and from the vaginal walls themselves. The level of lubrication is usually just enough to keep things moving smoothly. That is, the vaginal canal is kept "just moist." (Levin, 2003)
Many different factors affect the level and consistency of lubrication at any given time. For instance, leading up to ovulation, lubrication is often thicker and clear—like egg whites. During the peak of ovulation, lubrication is much more abundant and watery and often can wet our panties. After ovulation, lubrication becomes thicker, less hydrated, and can plug up the cervical entrance (which may be the point). All of this is affected by any medications that we may be on or the uniqueness of our own physiology. (Levin, 2003)
The "just moist" level of lubrication is usually not enough to allow for comfortable penetrative sex, and so there is a separate mechanism at work to create extra lube during initial sexual arousal. There is a release of both vasodilator neuropeptides—dilating the vessels bringing blood flow into the genital region—and vasoconstrictor neuropeptides, constricting the veins to prevent the blood from flowing out. This engorges the area, (similar mechanisms lead to a firm, swollen clitoris and a rigid penis during sexual arousal), and therefore pushes more lubricant through the pores of the vaginal walls (there's a little more to this, but I'm not a biochemist and I'm also assuming you are not). If we were to take a peak inside our vaginal canals during this process, we would see lube forming wet beads on the walls before they join together to form a contiguous, wet and silky substance. This whole process only takes a few seconds. That is, although we may create a lot of lube, it usually occurs at the onset of sexual arousal and gets reabsorbed fairly quickly. That is, the longer we have been in a state of sexual arousal the less naturally lubed up we will be. (Levin, 2003)
According to Masters, Johnson & Kolodney (1985), "contrary to commonly held beliefs the amount of vaginal lubrication is not necessarily indicative of the woman's level of sexual arousal" and "during the Plateau phase the production of vaginal lubrication often slows down during this phase compared to the Excitation phase, especially if the Plateau phase is long."
Of course, we don't need Masters, Johnson & Kolodney to tell us what we experience. The point is, how wet our pussy is depends on several factors and does not necessarily correlate to our level of sexual arousal at any given time ... especially if we've been aroused for a relatively long time. Other factors are medications, where we are in our menstrual cycle, our age, our own unique body's physiology, etc. Also, I don't know about you, but I often will begin a sexual encounter (whether it is penetrative or not) before I am fully aroused because the act of having sex gets me aroused. Using extra lube really makes this process feel good as opposed to annoying. My state of sexual arousal quickly catches up!
What I'm trying to say here is—if you need or want to use lube, use it! That's my story, and I'm sticking to it! Or should I say ... smoothly sliding along it!
Ally Booker is a pleasure activist. She is passionate about educating herself and others on cool sexuality related things like communication skills, creating and respecting boundaries, sexual self-determination, destigmatization, gender and sexual expressions, sex toy use and safety, and all the other mechanics of pleasure. You can often find her milling around her Tucson shop, Jellywink Boutique.