Pretty much every sex educator I know will tell you- lubricants make sex feel better. They reduce friction, create different sensations, make condoms and other safer sex methods more effective and pleasurable, and enhance both satisfaction and pleasure. A lot of people have have shared plenty of stories to back all that up. Plus, in recent years, the range of lubricants designed for sex has increased tremendously, which would only happen if people were getting enough benefit from using them to support the development of new products.
Even so, it’s incredibly important to have all of this confirmed by research. The fantastic sexologists at Indiana University have published Association of Lubricant Use with Women’s Sexual Pleasure, Sexual Satisfaction, and Genital Symptoms: A Prospective Daily Diary Study, their study of cisgender women’s lubricant use. They had over 2400 women (ages 18-68) keep a record of their sexual experiences over five weeks, while using one of 6 randomly assigned lubricants (the participants didn’t know which lube they got, although all participants were able to use both water- and silicone-based products without allergic reactions). They tracked penis/vaginal sex (PV), penis/anal sex (PA), solo sex, lubricant use, lubricant application, ratings of sexual pleasure and satisfaction, and genital symptoms. 86.5% of them identified as heterosexual, 8.4% as bisexual, 2.2% as lesbian, .8% as questioning, .1% as asexual, and 1.5% as other, so there was a good range of sexual orientations.
As might be expected, participants reported a wide spectrum of sexual practices. Penis/vaginal sex was the most commonly reported behavior on days that they had sex with a partner (about 90% of the women had intercourse at least once during the study). About 85% of them gave or received handjobs at least once, 78% gave oral sex and 72% received oral sex at least once. And 29% experienced anal stimulation without a penis, while 20% had anal intercourse at least once.
Interestingly, for PV sex, there was a tendency for both the women and their partners to apply lubricant to each other’s genitals, although of course, plenty of people put it on themselves and for many couples, both applied lube.
But for PA sex, partners tended to be the ones to put lube on the women. Given that many people find that anal penetration, especially anal intercourse, involves a rather deep level of trust, it may be that couples have developed patterns of having the penetrating partner be the one to apply lube. Or it may be that since the anus is a bit harder to reach on oneself than the vagina, it’s simply easier that way. And of course, if the woman is less interested in anal intercourse than her partner, she may be less willing to add the lube herself. I’m sure there are other possible reasons, too, and I’d love to see further research on this topic.
When it comes to how lube makes things feel, both pleasure and satisfaction were higher when lube was used. This makes a lot of sense, especially since enhancing pleasure was the most commonly reported reason for using lube., both with a partner and solo.
Lube also reduced the frequency of things like tearing, discomfort, entry pain, and penetration pain during PV and PA. Water-based products had fewer reported difficulties than the silicone-based ones. Quite a few women said that they used lube to reduce the risk of tearing, especially for anal intercourse. As I always, you really can’t have enough lube for anal play and it’s good to see that the message is out in the world.
One of the things that makes this study important is that most research on the topic has focused on men using lube during anal sex with other men and in the context of HIV risk. While this is certainly important work, there’s been very little done around women and lubricants, much less how different products affect pleasure.
Another value to this research is that it confirms what I and my colleagues have been saying for years. That information has been based on thousands of people giving us feedback and information about their experiences, and while that is quite useful, the plural of anecdotes is not data. Having some science to back us up will help a lot. Plus, now there’s something for grad students and researchers to cite in papers, which will strengthen future sexological research.
So hats off to the folks at Indiana U and the Center for Sexual Health Promotion for producing another great bit of sex science!