Do you have a favorite lubricant? Or is your strategy to grab whatever happens to be at Walgreens that day? Having a good lubricant can increase pleasure for anyone, and at certain times it's even more essential for comfort.
If a client is newly postpartum, we recommend using lubricant at least with the first couple of attempts at intercourse. The vagina is usually more sensitive during this time, and using a lubricant can improve comfort and decrease anxiety in the moment. Even if you've never needed it before, we think it's good to have one on hand!
If someone is producing milk (either breastfeeding, pumping, or both) estrogen levels in the body are lower than usual. This can produce a state of vaginal dryness and sensitivity that lasts while lactation is occurring. This low estrogen state also occurs (and lasts) after menopause. For some, this dryness is barely noticeable, and for others it is extremely uncomfortable and limits their ability to tolerate intercourse or exams.
If there is noticeable dryness, a personal moisturizer that is used outside of intercourse may be helpful. We often recommend applying coconut oil at the vaginal opening daily as a moisture barrier to help soothe the tissue (read more below under "plant oil based). A topical estrogen prescribed by a doctor can also directly improve tissue hydration during this time. During intercourse, it is also important to have a long-lasting lubricant.
If you are experiencing discomfort or pain during intercourse and using lubricant resolves it, then continue using it regularly. If the pain does not resolve, it may be at least partly due to muscular tension. If this is the case, please contact a qualified pelvic physical therapist for evaluation.
All lubricants are not created equal! Here's a quick primer:
WATER BASED: Most common and affordable, compatible with all birth control/safe sex barrier methods. Most likely to contain preservatives and other irritants.
PLANT OIL BASED: Lasts longer, has a hydrating effect on tissues over time, can be 100% organic. Not compatible with condoms or other barriers made from latex or polyisoprene.
SILICONE: Lasts longest, works in the shower or bath, compatible with all safe sex barrier methods. Not compatible with silicone toys.
Other major characteristics of lubricants to consider:
pH: Vaginal pH is generally a bit acidic, with pH between 3.5-4.5. However, pH changes throughout the menstrual cycle, and with decreased estrogen levels will become less acidic (up to pH of 6-7). Therefore if you are lactating or in menopause and use a more acidic lubricant (lower number), it can cause burning/stinging.
OSMOLALITY: Basically, the concentration of water vs. other ingredients. A lubricant with high osmolality can cause dehydration and irritation of sensitive vaginal tissues by drawing out moisture.
GLYCERIN: Avoid products with glycerin, as it can cause yeast overgrowth and has a high osmolality (potential for irritation).
Organic extra virgin coconut oil (Oils do not have a pH because they do not dissolve in water. However, additives in coconut oil may influence pH and products sometimes test in a wide range. We recommend buying a 100% pure coconut oil to decrease any interactions with vaginal pH.)
Slippery Stuff (water based, paraben and glycerin-free, pH 5.5)
Good Clean Love Almost Naked (water based, vegan and organic, pH 4)
Sliquid Organics Natural (silicone, pH 6)
Want even more detail? Here's a great guide to lubricants from Smitten Kitten