How Lube Completely Transformed My Sex Life

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein
Lube and I got off to a bad start. The first time I encountered it, I was 15. My boyfriend at the time was hell-bent on having anal sex, so he stole a tube of drugstore lube from his mom’s bedside table and presented it to me like a cat bearing a dead bird. The label was yellowing, and bit of lube crust flaked off as I opened the lid. Even though it served its purpose, using it felt just as disgusting as the bottle looked — it was smelly and sticky, and my skin was itchy afterwards. I had no intention of ever using it again, so for the next five years of my sex life, I was lubeless.

Vaginal intercourse had always been "friction-y" for me, but I thought that was how it was supposed to feel. Condoms came pre-lubricated; my vagina self-lubricated a little bit; plus, spit was always heavily utilized, and I figured that was how the average person had sex. Even though these factors were working in my favor, I couldn’t have sex for very long periods of time before my partner and I would run out of saliva and it would become painful.

When I was 18, I began taking an anti-anxiety medication that practically eradicated my vagina’s ability to self-lubricate altogether. I already had difficulty getting wet, and all of a sudden I had a vagina that was completely dry, no matter how aroused I was. I was nearly 20 before I realized that lube was a very easy way to avoid the sensation of rug burn inside my vagina, and I found myself shopping for it for the very first time.

I purchased a thick, water-based lubricant that was supposed to be very long-lasting and free of glycerin (which I learned is what makes most lubes sticky). The first time I used it with my sex toys, I finally realized what I had been missing out on. Dildos glided in and out with ease! My skin wouldn’t get irritated just from rubbing my clitoris! I had no idea how I’d ever had actual sex without the stuff. Still, I worried that it would be awkward to just whip out a bottle of lube in front of another person.

The first time I used it with my sex toys, I finally realized what I had been missing out on.

I was having a lot of casual sex at the time, and whenever I brought someone back to my apartment for a hookup, I made a lengthy, complicated disclaimer as I slowly retrieved it from my bedside table drawer. "I’m on this medication… It just makes everything feel better… I have to use it, is that okay?" I fumbled with my words, blushing. Most men were happy to oblige my use of lube, in fact, most were quite impressed with how good it felt for them, too. Some guys had never used it before, which made them a bit cautious at first. But since the end result was extra slippery, pleasurable sex, my partners generally seemed enlightened and appreciative of my lube usage.

I began toting a second, smaller bottle of lube around in my purse everywhere I went. If there was any chance I’d be having sex that night, it was just as necessary as packing condoms. Bouncers at clubs who searched my bag would pull it out, question its contents, and ask me to throw it away. “Oh, it’s just lube!” I’d reply confidently, and I’d see a look of horror flash across their face. I’d casually rub lube between my legs and arms to reduce chafing. I’d pull it out at brunch with my girlfriends and pass it around the table, preaching about how it changed my life.

When I began working at a sex toy store that year, we were instructed to always suggest a lubricant to go along with toys. Even if people self-lubricate in great quantities, the materials that sex toys are made of tend to tug at skin and hair, so a bottle of lube was always recommended with every purchase. Within my first few days of working on the sales floor, I realized that some people had a very strong negative reaction to the idea of lubricant. "Lube?" one young woman replied, evidently taken aback. "Um, no… I’m all right. I don’t have a problem."

A pang of tingling heat flashed throughout my body. Problem? Does using (and requiring) lube to have pleasurable sex mean there’s something wrong with me? I maintained composure, explaining that it makes using the toys much more comfortable, and quickly took her through the checkout process. All my sex educator friends at the toy store were in agreement — there was no such thing as too much lube — but I began to realize that the average person has a very bad perception of it.

It was as though needing lube made women feel as if they were lacking something — wetness, libido, femininity, fertility.

I interacted with countless customers, most of whom were women, and were completely offended that I suggested lube to them. Sometimes, older women would complain that they couldn't have sex anymore because of dryness. I would try to reassure them that using lube was a great way to conquer the issue, but they would still act defeated and reluctant. I always tried my best to not take it personally, but it made me sad every time someone took a jab at lube-users. I knew there wasn’t anything wrong with using it — after all, it completely revolutionized the way I have sex.

It became clear to me that there were other factors at play. It was as though needing lube made women feel as if they were lacking something — wetness, libido, femininity, fertility. I get it; no one wants to think that they must rely on something like lube in order to go about their business. But what if lacking one or all of those things wasn’t seen by society as a problem? How would women's sex lives be different if lube wasn't such a stigmatized item?

Although the negative reactions never ceased, I became more adept at confidently explaining the beauty of lube to people who weren't into it. There was even a girl who came back into the shop to thank me for encouraging her to try it out. Much like myself, she also had issues with too much friction during sex, and I felt comfortable enough to tell her that I'd had a similar experience. It was oddly emotional for me to realize that I wasn't alone. Maybe my drier-than-average vagina wasn't actually all that unusual or uncommon.

Since then, I've only learned to love lube more. I go through a giant bottle every month or so, and each empty container is like a trophy of self-love and lubrication. Even if your vagina gets super wet on its own, we all have our less hydrated days, and using lube is nothing to be ashamed of. Not all lubes were created equal, though, and if you've had a bad experience with lube (like I did initially), you might just need to try different formulas until you find one that works for you. (Pro tip: You can't use the vast majority of lubes when you're trying to conceive.) Finding a lube with sleek packaging that's also body-safe was a total game-changer for me, and also made me feel a lot more comfortable leaving it on my bedstand where I could access it, instead of stashing it away in a drawer.

Ultimately, we are responsible for our own orgasms and pleasure, but it can definitely be stressful to introduce a new element, like lube, into our sex lives. Just remember that you don't have a "problem" if you use boatloads of lube — people who make snarky remarks about using lube are simply echoing society's uninformed and sex-negative bias against giving your body the love and pleasure it deserves.

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