Lubricant vs. Vaginal Moisturizer: What’s the Difference?

Because someone asked me yesterday (and I often forget that many people don’t receive this kind of information from doctors, nurses, family, or friends):

Lubricants are typically for use during various types of sex (e.g., masturbation alone, partnered masturbation, hand jobs, sex toy play, vaginal intercourse, and most definitely anal intercourse). Women and men of diverse ages use lubricant during sexual activities. Think of lube as something one uses “in the moment” (e.g., during sexual activities). Lube is widely available in drug stores, retail chains, adult bookstores, and online.

Vaginal moisturizers are more about keeping the vagina moist and pliable even when not “in use” for sex. Some vaginal moisturizers contain estrogens; others do not. Some moisturizers can be purchased at local drug stores and retail chains. They are less often sold at adult bookstores. Some in-home sex toy party companies, such as Pure Romance, sell vaginal moisturizers. These are commonly applied in an applicator that looks like a syringe. The moisturizer is inserted into the vagina, very often at night before sleep just in case it leaks out later (that way it won’t get on your clothes or be noticeable in daily activities if it were to seep out). Women apply vaginal moisturizer using different routines – some apply it once or twice a week, others more often. Vaginal moisturizers are most often used by postmenopausal women, women who are breastfeeding, women who have had a hysterectomy involving removal of their ovaries, and women who have experienced certain cancer treatments and resulting side effects, such as vaginal dryness.

Something interesting I learned today: I was talking with a man about lubricants and moisturizers and how I often forget people don’t know the difference between the two. As part of the conversation, I had to explain to him what a vaginal moisturizer is and that vaginal dryness can be uncomfortable for women in their daily activities (not just during sex), or so I have heard. And then he explained to me that sometimes men’s foreskin dries out and that can be uncomfortable. I didn’t know this about men and their foreskin! Aside from lotions and lubricants, I don’t know what men do for this but I found it interesting. If you’re a guy with foreskin who wants to share any tips, hit me up at

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About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at