Vaginal dryness is a menopause symptom that doesn’t hog the headlines but it’s a problem for many women – and it’s not just about sex. Actress Naomi Watts has started a conversation about it so here’s the lowdown on the best lubes and vaginal moisturisers for midlife women
It was an unusual Instagram post from a Hollywood A-lister. Naomi Watts recently started a discussion with her 1.7m followers about vaginal dryness during menopause how lube can help. “Let's get real, take menopause and yes, dry va-jay-jays, mainstream. Unapologetically so! More than 1 billion people worldwide will be menopausal by 2025… That’s a whole lot of dry,” she wrote.
Aged 15, the actress appeared in a tampon ad, and reposted the photo alongside herself at the other end of the hormonal journey aged 54 (she's since turned 55), suggesting that conversations about lube should be as public as talk about tampons. "Why is it that we can talk about periods and puberty with ease, but when it comes to menopause, and yes, drrrryness… we all get a little skittish….I created this post in an attempt to capture a woman’s hormonal bookends, " she writes.
It was striking because vaginal dryness is not something midlife women talk about that much, even though for some women, the condition can make even sitting down extremely painful. It’s not just about sex.
Clearly, we are interested though – Google searches for best lubes for menopause are rising. Dr Jen Gunter, the straight-talking author of The Vagina Bible, thinks the stigma needs to end, as she says in her book, “Lube is your friend! I think of lubricant in the way I think of glasses – some people have always needed them, some of us need glasses as we age, and some just need glasses for reading. No one is judgy about glasses.”
Why might peri and menopausal women need lube?
“During menopause, estrogen levels drop, which means less lubrication and less blood flow to your vagina. This can lead to painful sex or difficulty when trying to get aroused,” says Pippa Murphy, sex and relationship expert at condoms.uk.
“The quickest and easiest way to overcome vaginal dryness is to use lube. Studies have shown that lube makes it 50 percent easier for everyone to orgasm.”
Although as we know, it’s not just about dryness affecting sex, and we’ve seen a growth in the vagina (or technically vulva) moisturisers too. There’s now often a crossover between the two with hybrid lube/moisturizers emerging.
Vaginal dryness is one of those menopause symptoms that doesn’t get much air time but it’s a big problem, says Dr Shahzadi Harper, leading menopause doctor. “According to studies, around 17 per cent of women aged 18 to 50 experience vaginal dryness but that drastically increases during the perimenopause and menopause,” she says. “Studies also show that over half of post-menopausal women up to the age of 60 struggle with painful symptoms.”
Chemotherapy can also be a cause, ditto breast-feeding, stress, the contraceptive pill and some medications.
What type of lube are there?
- Water-based lube. These are suitable for use with condoms. You may need to reapply as they tend to dry quickly.
- Silicone-based lube. These have that pleasing ‘slippery’ feel. They’re condom safe.
- Oil- based lube. These aren’t suitable for use with latex condoms. They last ages, they double up as a massage oil, but they might stain your sheets. Proceed with caution using essential oils internally (see below).
What are CBD lubes?
You’ve quaffed the drinks, you’ve slathered on the skincare, you’ve chomped on the gummies but now the wellness world’s hottest ingredient has penetrated (sorry) the lube market. Cannabidiol or CBD in skincare is said to have a vasodilatory effect, thus when added to a lube, it increases blood flow to the sexual organs and enhances sensitivity. It’s also said to decrease pain.
Then there’s the emotional side - many people swear by CBD’s calming, anxiety-busting effects. Hard evidence of its efficacy is scant on the ground, but Dr Harper has patients who are fans. If your curiosity is, er, aroused, check out our recommendations below.
What should we consider when choosing a lube?
It’s vital that lube is pH balanced so check the bottle to see if this is stated, says Dr Harper. She especially urges caution with using some essential oils internally in the vagina. “The drop in oestrogen during menopause affects your vaginal microbiome so the last thing you want to do is put anything inside that disrupts it further and potentially causes an overgrowth of candida or bacterial vaginosis.”
You also need to choose your lube carefully if you are using condoms. “If you have an oil-based lube, it’s good from a slide and glide perspective but if you’re using condoms, it can reduce the integrity of the latex,” says Dr Harper. So go for a water or silicone-based product.
What’s the difference between lube and vaginal moisturiser?
Whether sex is involved, in a nutshell. Lubes are for when you’re getting your rocks off, moisturisers are meant for your vulva skin care. There is often a crossover between the two, with some products made to multi-task but do read the small print on the bottle.
Some are only recommended for external rather than internal (so vulva rather than vagina) use.
Dr Harper believes we should use a vaginal moisturiser daily, approaching it like we do hydrating our face and body. The benefits aren’t just physical, they can be psychological too, she says.
“Another important reason to moisturize your vulva is to restore the mind/vulva connection. When women say to me, ‘I’ve lost my libido’, they often haven’t looked down there for 20 years and they don’t touch themselves. Applying a vaginal moisturizer can help reignite your sexual memory – you get your sexy back!”
The best lubes and vaginal moisturisers for menopause and perimenopause
The one made by a perimenopause doctor: The Harper Clinic The Vacial, £32
A vagina facial, anyone? Dr Harper’s new oil is 100% organic and contains sweet almond oil, coconut oil, pomegranate oil, castor oil and vitamin E, all PH neutral. It’s designed for use as a daily moisturiser.
The celebrity sexy one: JOMO London CBD Arousal Oil, £48
Co-created by Made In Chelsea star Liv Bentley, this super-luxe massage and arousal oil contains 1% CBD. It smells divine and comes in a chic glass bottle.
The sustainable US CBD one: Press Pause Love CBD Intimacy Spray, £40
This relaxing essential oil spray comes from sustainable high-end US CBD brand founded by American mother-of-three Dawn Fable who turned to CBD oil to save her from breaking point and is now on sale at Saks Fifth Avenue. It combines CBD with lavender, ginger, peppermint and rosemary oils (think sexy herb garden). They recommend you spray a bit on to get in the groove, using it alongside a lubricant.
The affordable lube/moisturiser: WooWoo Intimate Natural Lube & Moisturiser, £9
Great value, this is unscented water-based and contains aloe vera to soothe and nourish. It’s a multi-tasker from a cool and unapologetic female-founded British brand. So whatever you’re up to down there, it works. Vegan too.
The straight-talking Scandi one: Mantle The Pussy Collection Box, £68
Yes, that is a lot of money but you get a lot of bang for your buck with this “intimate self-care trio”: a moisturisizng balm for the vulva, a sex oil for the vagina and a shower gel. Mantle, by the way, is a chic Scandi CBD skincare brand that looks chic by your bedside.
The lube/moisturiser to balance your vaginal bacteria: In2mate Natural Lubricant, £7.50
This bargainous award-winner is particularly useful if bacterial imbalance is something you are concerned about. It’s natural, unscented and contains a patented prebiotic called Biolin, which helps balance vaginal bacteria (good news if you’re prone to infections) and strengthen thinning skin. It specialises in locking in moisture so a great everyday product (and says it improves flexibility of vaginal skin. Yoga here we come!).
The one that experts recommend: Sylk Intimate Lubricant, £9.99
Nutritionist Emma Bardwell, who co-authored The Perimenopause Solution with Dr Shahzadi Harper, recommends this to her clients. Containing kiwi and citrus seed extract, it’s pH balanced, water-based and gentle.
The moisturising oil you can also use in pregnancy: Naydaya Vagina Victory Oil, £24
This unscented oil designed for daily use (and also works as a perineum massage oil for pregnant women). It’s packed with nourishing oils, including almond and coconut, and the brand donates one per cent from each sale to premature baby charity Bliss
The hyaluronic acid one with Phyto oestrogens, block cohosh and sage: Healthspan Silk Comfort Intimate Gel, £16.95
Both a lube and a daily moisturizer, this discreet tube contains aloe vera, moisturising hyaluronic acid calendula, phytoestrogens and friendly bacteria for a pH-balanced formulation. It’s made by specialists supplements company Healthspan includes black cohosh and sage – popular menopause supplements..
The upmarket CBD serum : Vella Women's Pleasure Serum Multi-use Jar, £59
Apply this CBD cream 20 minutes before the fun starts and it promoise to "amplify every orgasm". It's fragrance free, safe to use with condoms and the chic jar will pass muster on your bedside table. Vella Bioscience is a buzz US femtech company, with a lead scientist who was involved in developing Viagra, so you know you're in good hands.