By Tracy Leong, SIECUS Program Research Intern
Kristen N. Jozkowski, et al., “Women’s Perceptions about Lubricant Use and Vaginal Wetness during Sexual Activities,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (February 2013).
Lubricant use has long been recommended as a part of safer sex practices to reduce tearing of the vaginal and anal walls and prevent condom breakage due to friction (which could increase risk of HIV/STD transmission). Although it has been recommended for safer sex practices, little is known about women’s experience and perception of lubricant use. A study involving 2,451 U.S. women, ages 18-68 was conducted to assess their perceptions about lubricant use, vaginal wetness during sexual activities, purchasing and application patterns, and the relationship of age to these perceptions. Data was collected through an online daily diary. Overall, women in the study felt positively about lubricant, preferring sex to feel more wet than not. Participants reported that lubricant made various sexual activities (not just intercourse with a male partner) more comfortable and pleasurable.
- Lubricant use was associated with higher ratings of sexual pleasure and satisfaction in both solo masturbation and partnered sexual activities.
- Women reported that it was easier to achieve orgasm when sexual activities were wet.
- Of all age groups, women ages 40-49 reported the most positive views of lubricant.
- Regardless of age, most women reported liking sex to feel wet and perceived their partners to like this as well.
Across cultures, mainstream media and ideals influence societal standards, including norms on vaginal wetness. In the United States, it appears that most women (and their sexual partners) desire some level of vaginal wetness, and see a lack of natural self-lubrication as problematic. Levels of self-lubrication vary from individual to individual and can be affected by stress, anxiety, or changes in estrogen levels due to age or hormonal contraceptives.  Natural and artificial lubricants (“lubes”) sold commercially can be used to increase wetness. Increased vaginal wetness in this study was associated with overall greater satisfaction with the sexual experience; many women in the study reported that they were more easily orgasmic when wet, and perceived their partners to also prefer vaginal wetness.
For this study, participants were asked to respond to a series of statements about their perception of lubes by selecting “strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree.” More than 9 out of 10 women in the study agreed or strongly agreed that lubes made sex feel “more comfortable,” “more pleasurable,” and simply “better.” In contrast, only 5% reported that they would be offended if a partner suggested using a lube.
Only a small percentage of women in the study expressed truly negative stereotypes about lubricant, believing that the need for lube indicated sexual deficiency or that its use is only necessary for older women. Younger women (ages 18-29) reported somewhat lower positive perceptions about lubes compared to older age groups; this may be because many younger women find it easier to achieve their desired amount of self-lubrication. Women in their 40s, who expressed the most positive attitudes towards lube, may be experiencing changes in their vaginal lubrication related to pre-menopause and thus may be most interested in the appeal of commercial lubes. Overall, more than 9 out of 10 women in the study disagreed or strongly disagreed that “young women don’t really need lubes,” or that “something is wrong with a woman sexually if she needs a lube.”
This study provides evidence that U.S. women largely have positive perceptions about lubricant use. The authors suggest that, “informing others of widespread positive endorsement may help ease discomfort and embarrassment among women who may feel negatively about lubricants." Women in this study held overwhelmingly positive perceptions about lubricant use, with participants reporting that lubricant use made sex more comfortable and pleasurable. Sexuality educators can share this information with sexually active people across all age groups, to encourage them to consider lubricant use for sexual enhancement, and to refute negative misconceptions that lubes are only needed for “fixing” sexual problems.
 Jozkowski KN, Herbenick D, Schick V, Reece M, Sanders SA, Fortenberry JD (2013). Women’s perceptions about lubricant use and vaginal wetness during sexual activities. J Sexual Medicine. February; doi: 10.1111/jsm.12022. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23211029.
 “Addicted to Lube?” Go Ask Alice! website (Columbia University), April 6, 2007, accessed March 13 2013, http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/addicted-lube.
 Berman L, “What you need to know about vaginal dryness,” Everyday Health, January 9, 2013, accessed March 13 2013, http://www.everydayhealth.com/sexual-health/dr-laura-berman-what-you-need-to-know-about-vaginal-dryness.aspx.
 Jozkowski, et al.