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Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010

Stop the Presses! Lubricant Makes Sex More Pleasurable!

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Last week, researchers at Indiana University released findings from a new study about the effect of lubricant use on women’s sexual pleasure. The study, published in the November 2010 issue of TheJournal of Sexual Medicine, showed that women who used water-based or silicone-based lubricants during sex reported higher levels of sexual pleasure and sexual satisfaction than women who did not.

“Well, duh,” sexuality educators across the country are doubtlessly saying. “We needed a study to tell us that?”

Yes, actually, we did need a study. While the premise that lube makes sex more fun may seem obvious to some of us, scientific research that examines our assumptions is important. There is far too little research that is conducted on women’s experiences of sexual pleasure, and every little bit contributes to our cultural dialogue about and acceptance of a woman’s right to a happy, healthy sex life.

A lot of research and reporting about women and sexuality focuses on sexual dysfunction. For example, many articles have been written about the quest for “female Viagra,” a pill or other pharmaceutical that would “cure” women of such issues as low levels of sexual desire. Few studies focus solely on sex as a fun, pleasurable activity.

This bias is reflected in the way that we tend to talk about and purchase lubricant. Sometimes, when I’m passing out free safer-sex kits to students or leading a sexuality education workshop for young people, women will proudly declare that they “don’t need lube,” as if the use of lubricant indicates some kind of deficiency. We frequently see couples in the store purchasing lubricant only because a health care provider has recommended it as treatment for vaginal dryness or pain during intercourse.

The Indiana University study showed that 70% of women who used lubricant during vaginal or anal intercourse did so in order to make sex more pleasurable, and more than one-third of the time women used lubricant because it was fun. BECAUSE IT WAS FUN. This sounds simple, but it’s actually revolutionary. Using lubricant is something that a sizable chunk of women do not do because of a medical need or deficiency, but because they enjoy it.

My hope is that this reduces any stigma that remains around using lube and encourages women who might be curious to try it. I also hope that publicity related to this study continues to normalize the idea that sex should be fun for all involved and should not be painful (unless you’re intentionally seeking intense/painful sensations). I still see women in the store or at classes who seem resigned to the fact that sex (especially anal sex) hurts or is primarily pleasurable for their partners, not them. This has been changing, and needs to continue to change.

One caveat about the study is that it appears to have been partially funded by a manufacturer of some of the lubricants used in the research. It’s always important to note when research has been paid for by a company who is likely to benefit financially from a study’s results. In my opinion, the lubricants used in the study were of fairly low quality and are not any that I would personally recommend to anyone—but if positive results were achieved with those products, we can only go upward from there!

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to
laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the
Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.
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