I have a crackpot theory about lube, especially as it relates to menopause.
Maybe you remember hearing about studies that suggest smiling can actually make you happy. Not just act happier, but actually feel happier. There was a Welsh study that suggested that people who lost the ability to frown effectively (the study involved Botox injections) were happier than people who could make properly grumpy expressions. While not great news for those of us who pride ourselves on intimidating scowls, this is a strong indication of the connection between the physical expressions of emotions and the mental perceptions of emotions.
We think about it the other way all the time. If you get nervous, you might sweat more. If you are frightened, your heart rate may increase. If you are embarrassed, you may blush. Anxiety can trigger such strong physical symptoms that people become physically ill.
But one common theory of emotional processing is that emotions are more of a feedback loop than one-directional flow. This theory suggest that part of our emotional response when we experience a physical stimulus is to try to look for an emotional explanation for our physical symptoms.
This is the loop that makes us feel panicky when our heartrate goes up. This is the loop that means we will look for a reason that we are happy if we feel ourselves smiling. And if we are looking around for a reason we are happy, we can probably find one most of the time.
This is where my crackpot theory comes in.
If we have a history of associating lubrication with arousal, then it makes sense to me that the sensation of wetness that lube provides to a dry vulva or vagina could actually increase arousal the same way smiling can make us feel happier. “I am wet — I must be aroused.” In a sexual situation where you are choosing to apply lube, it shouldn’t be too hard to find an explanation for arousal.
I wonder if part of the decreased arousal so many women experience during perimenopause and menopause isn’t directly hormonal, but can be attributed to the lack of natural lubrication. How many women are, at an unconscious level, analyzing their physiological response and determining that, since they are not wet, they are not aroused?
Physical arousal and mental arousal are pretty loosely related. Emily Nagoski, PhD (her theories are not crackpot) writes and speaks extensively about the lack of a reliable connection between how wet a woman is and how aroused she is mentally.
In popular culture, wetness and desire are often treated like the same thing. Some people will even insist that wetness is a better indication of what a woman wants than what she says she wants. That “bodies don’t lie.” Not only is this disrespectful and rapey, it is completely untrue.
In the real world, many women (and men too, but statistically less often) spend lots of time feeling aroused when their body is not and responding physically to things that they do not find emotionally arousing at all. This is called arousal nonconcordance.
It can happen at any age, but the decreased vaginal lubrication of menopause brings a new element into it. It is now even more likely that our emotional experience of arousal will not be accompanied by our own wetness. We (and our partners) need to understand this disconnection and recognize how simple it can be to address. We need to disconnect wetness and readiness if we ever want to get over the stigma some people attach to lube. Which we do, because lube can help pretty much anybody have a smoother, more pleasurable sexual experience.