The Not-So-Sexy Truth About Getting Wet When You're Turned On

Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.
You're deep into the heavy-petting stage of foreplay when your partner slides their hand down your body and into your pants. As they push your underwear aside, they say, "Oh my god, you're so wet." But what they're really saying is, "Wow babe. Your Bartholin's glands are working extra hard today." That's not nearly as sexy, of course, so we call it "getting wet" instead. But that's technically wrong. And so is the assumption that goes along with their excitement over your wetness: that when someone is extremely wet (or not), they must be ridiculously turned on (or not).
First, let's make it clear that all bodies are different, so some people might not get as wet as others. And that's totally okay. Not getting super wet before sex doesn't necessarily mean that you're not into it or that you don't find your sex buddy smokin' hot. If you don't really want sex, how your body reacts won't be the only indication. "The best indicator of whether or not you're aroused is whether you feel like you're aroused, not necessarily whether or not you're wet," says sexologist Celeste Holbrook, PhD. Not getting super wet might just mean that your body doesn't respond as quickly or as much as others'. So it's cool to reach for the lube, because sometimes we all need extra help. (Besides, adding lube to sex is amazing regardless of your natural lubrication situation).
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But it's also incorrect to say someone is "getting wet," because, really, vaginas are always at least a little damp. It's normal to have some vaginal discharge in your underwear every day. Your vagina would probably be super uncomfortable if you didn't, because vaginal discharge not only keeps your vulva slick, it also washes bacteria out of your vaginal canal, according to the U.S. National Library Of Medicine.
Vaginal discharge is generally mixed with bacteria and dead cells, according to the U.S. National Library Of Medicine, which is why it tends to look and smell different if you have an infection (because there are different levels of bacteria present). The actual fluid, though, is a mucus-like secretion that contains carbohydrates, amino acids, proteins, and other acids, according to Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University’s Health Q&A Internet Resource.
So, the biggest difference between normal, everyday wetness and sexual wetness is how much vaginal fluid comes out, and where it comes from. When you're not sexually aroused, vaginal discharge comes mainly from glands in your cervix and the walls of your vagina, according to the U.S. National Library Of Medicine. But when you start to get sexually excited, fluid comes from several other places as well. Those sexy, aforementioned Bartholin's glands are located on either side of your vaginal opening, and pretty much only activate when you're turned on, according to The Mayo Clinic. When you're feeling particularly sexy, these glands secrete fluid to lubricate the opening of your vagina, which makes it easier for a penis, sex toy, fingers, or anything else you're using to slide in and out easily. Skene's glands, which sit near the urethra and are sometimes called the "female prostate," also contribute to the wetness you feel when you're aroused, Dr. Holbrook says. Like Bartholin's glands, they secrete mucus that lubricates the area around your vaginal opening. Some scientists also believe Skene's glands have something to do with squirting, but there's no solid proof of that because there's very little funding for research into women's sexual pleasure, Dr. Holbrook says.
The fluid from Skene's glands is actually different from other vaginal secretions, and is believed to be high in prostatic acid phosphatase, glucose, and fructose. So that fluid mixes with the fluid from Bartholin's glands and the vaginal discharge that's already there. But that doesn't totally explain why your whole vulva gets extra wet when you're turned on. Those glands are only responsible for lubricating the vagina, so why do your vulva lips (aka, your outer and inner labia) feels so moist, too? That can be explained by something often dubbed vaginal "sweating" (hot, right?).
When anyone, regardless of gender identity, becomes aroused, blood rushes to their genitals. In people who have vulvas, that extra blood pressure engorges the whole area, including the clitoris and the labia. The swelling causes your vulva to "sweat," according to Go Ask Alice!, because there's vaginal fluid mixed in with the blood that fills up your genitals when you get turned on. And with all the extra pressure on your genitals, that fluid seeps out through your vaginal walls. Just something to think about next time a sex buddy goes on and on about how wet you are.
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