Sex Advice

Lube and Arousal Oil Aren’t the Same—but Here’s Why Each Deserves a Place in Your Nightstand

Mary Grace Garis

Mary Grace GarisMarch 4, 2020

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While it’s great to optimize your orgasm for ease in terms of time, duration, and tools, before streamlining, it’s key to understand potential issues in your way. One big, Sahara Desert-size issue you may encounter? Vaginal dryness, which advocacy organization Women’s Health Concern estimates affects about 17 percent of vulva-owners ages 18 to 50 and only increases in rate during and after menopause. “A range of factors can affect vaginal lubrication including diet, hydration, medication, menstrual cycle, menopause, overall health, stress, and pressure. The body’s response to arousal is not always predictable,” says sexologist Jess O’Reilly, PhD.

Now, here’s the good news since you can’t control that very-common dryness: Many products exist that can assist with vaginal dryness, but it’s important to note that two power players on the market—personal lubricant and arousal oil—are not the same. Both work toward a similar goal of snagging you orgasmic sex, but when and how you use each varies. Below, get a primer on how to use each best, plus the key difference between lube and arousal oil.

Arousal oil

Arousal oils are a kind of topical aphrodisiac that’s meant to, well, get you in the mood. “Arousal oils are meant to be used externally to help promote blood flow in the vulva tissue and clitoris so you get wet,” says Rebecca Alvarez Story, sexologist and founder of Bloomi Arousal Oil ($58) (a product that worked for yours truly in five minutes flat). “Think of them as foreplay oil.” When used in this way, you apply it directly to the outside of your vulva, which will in turn amplify the sensitivity you feel.

“Arousal oils are meant to be used externally to help promote blood flow in the vulva tissue and clitoris so you get wet. Think of them as foreplay oil.” —sexologist Rebecca Alvarez Story

But arousal oil doesn’t need to be limited to external vulva use—it can also be used as a supercharged massage oil of sorts. Still, your vulva is the area of the body that’s most reactive to arousal oil, Story says, which can help it to produce its own wetness.

Personal lubricant

Personal lubricant is the water-based product (or oil-based or silicone-based), like Sliquid Sassy ($12), aimed to assist in making sex more slippery and less painful. “Lubricants are meant to be used internally to promote the slip or mimic the natural wetness you feel during sex,” says Story. “They’re usually used during sex, especially penetrative sex, to get more glide.”

And even though lube doesn’t necessarily offer the tingle-promoting ingredients of an arousal oil, that glide can give you the versatility and ease to promote pleasure through penetration. “When you use lube, your options for positions, techniques, and even duration of [penetrative] sex expand exponentially,” says Dr. O’Reilly. “Research confirms that lube use is associated with a range of benefits, including higher rates of sexual satisfaction and pleasure.”

The key difference between lube and arousal oil

The main difference between lube and arousal oil are ingredients that allow lube to be used internally. Lube can be used anything that would never really naturally lubricate in the first place, like a penis or a sex toy, and it can be incredibly helpful during anal sex. But it lacks those stimulating ingredients that’ll turn you on.

The main difference between lube and arousal oil are ingredients that allow lube to be used internally.

“Ingredients such as damiana, pumpkin seed oil, and angelica root in Bloomi Arousal Oil help promote blood flow and increase circulation when absorbed into the skin,” says Story. “The texture should feel good externally, like a glide-y feeling that promotes easy stimulation of the clitoris, inner thighs, and surrounding area.” But, these ingredients with major turn-you-on potential effects aren’t meant to enter the body.

“Lubricants have a different consistency and are meant to mimic the vagina’s natural wetness with a slippery, wet feel,” Story says. “Lubricants are considered medical devices and in general, they should be made with coconut-based ingredients [editor’s note: but not coconut oil], aloe vera, or other tested oils that are safety tested for internal use.” They’re supposed to be more minimalist, with few ingredients in order to uphold your vaginal pH balance.

Another reason arousal oil isn’t meant for penetrative use? Those who are practicing penetrative sex with a barrier should be reminded that oil isn’t compatible with latex. In fact, even 60 seconds of exposure to oil can lead to a degradation in condoms or other latex barriers.

So a refresher: Arousal oils are oil-based, used externally, and great for masturbation and foreplay because they heighten your body’s senses and stimulate natural lubrication. Personal lubricants are oil-based, silicone-based, or water-based, can be used internally, and are useful for facilitating penetration and simulating (but not creating) natural lubrication. But, what both products definitely have in common is the sincere desire to ensure your voyage toward you next orgasm is smooth-sailing. And that’s an honorable mission to have.

Here are a few other ways to speed up your orgasm on nights when you gotta get to bed early. On the flip side, slow down once in a while; this is why it’s important to enjoy all phases of the sexual response cycle (when you have the time). 

Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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