Once you reach middle age, sex may not feel as good as it once did. Thinning vaginal tissues and dryness due to a lack of estrogen in menopause can make intimacy uncomfortable, or even painful.

If vaginal dryness is mild or it only bothers you during sex, try a gel or liquid lubricant. You can apply the lubricant to the inside of your vagina, to your partner’s penis, or to a sex toy to reduce friction. Lubricants work quickly, and they offer short-term relief from pain and dryness during sex.

Here’s a look at some of the most common lubricants available, and the pros and cons of each.

Water-based lubricants

Pros

The water contained in water-based lubricants is sometimes combined with glycerin. This odorless, colorless liquid is used in many personal care products.

Women who use water-based lubricants say these products increase their pleasure and satisfaction during sex. This type of lubricant won’t damage latex condoms, and they’re less likely to cause vaginal discomfort than oil-based lubricants. They’re also non-staining and wash off easily with soap and water.

Water-based lubricants are safe to use and easy to find in stores.

Cons

Water-based lubricants can dry up quickly, so you may have to reapply it. They also don’t work in water, so they aren’t effective for sex in a shower or pool.

Some of these lubricants contain preservatives and additives such as glycerin and parabens. These may irritate the sensitive vaginal tissues or cause yeast infections in some women. Parabens have mild estrogen-like effects. There have been questions about whether they might contribute to breast cancer, but so far no studies have shown any definitive link.

Brands include:

  • Astroglide
  • Eros Aqua
  • K-Y Liquid
  • Liquid Silk
  • Replens
  • Slippery Stuff
  • Ultra Glide

Silicone-based lubricants

Pros

These products offer the greatest amount of lubrication, and they won’t dry out during sex. They keep working in water and they won’t affect latex condoms like oil-based products can. Silicone-based lubricants are also less likely to irritate you than water-based lubricants.

Cons

Silicone-based lubricants are expensive, and they can be hard to find in stores. They also can be difficult to wash off fully with soap and water. After using them, you may be left with a sticky residue on your skin.

Brands include:

  • Astroglide Diamond Silicone Gel
  • EROS
  • ID Millennium Lubricant
  • Pink Intimate Lubricants
  • Pjur
  • Pure Pleasure
  • Wet Platinum Premium Body Glide

Oil-based lubricants

Pros

Oil-based lubricants last longer than water-based ones, and they work in water. These lubricants also don’t contain irritating preservatives and other additives.

Cons

You don’t want to use an oil-based lubricant with a latex condom or diaphragm. Oil can damage latex, leaving you vulnerable to STIs or pregnancy (if you still get periods). You can safely use these lubricants with polyurethane condoms.

Certain oil-based lubricants — including petroleum jelly and baby oil — can increase your risk for a urinary infection. The oil also stains sheets, underwear, and other fabrics.

Options include:

  • mineral oil
  • petroleum jelly
  • baby oil

Natural lubricants

Pros

If you prefer a natural product, this may be your first choice. Natural lubricants are free from ingredients like glycerin or parabens, which can sometimes irritate the skin.

Cons

You’ll have some of the same issues with natural lubricants as you would with conventional brands. Water-based lubricants can dry up quickly, while oil-based lubricants can damage latex condoms.

Brands include:

  • Good Clean Love
  • Isabel Fay Natural Water-Based Lubricant
  • Organic Glide Natural Personal Lubricant
  • Sliquid Organic Lubricating Gel

Plant oil-based lubricants

Pros

If you like an oil-based lubricant but you want to go the all-natural route or save yourself the cost of store-bought products, you can find these options right in your pantry. They’re also a good option if you’re out of your regular lubricant. The rule is that if it’s safe to eat, it’s usually safe to use in your vagina.

Cons

Even natural oils can break down latex condoms, and they can stain fabrics. You’re better off using water- or silicone-based lubricant with a condom or diaphragm.

Options include:

  • avocado oil
  • coconut oil
  • olive oil
  • Crisco

Warming lubricants

Pros

These lubricants add ingredients like menthol and capsaicin to create a warming sensation. Some women report that they enhance sensation and lead to more orgasms.

Cons

Warming lubricants may cause an uncomfortable burning or stinging sensation in some women.

Brands include:

  • K-Y Yours + Mine
  • K-Y Warming Liquid
  • LifeStyles Excite
  • Zestra

Takeaway

Lubricants work best for mild to moderate vaginal dryness. If your dryness is more severe or a lubricant doesn’t help, see your gynecologist or primary care doctor. You may need an estrogen cream or pill. Or, you could have an underlying medical condition that needs to be treated.