How Do Numbing & Desensitizing Lubes Work? Are They Safe?
Many people enjoy anal sex, but exploring the backdoor is often associated with discomfort. Why?
While the vagina is self-lubricating, the same can’t be said for the anus.
For that reason, you’ve probably heard that you should use lube for anal sex if you want to have a good time, and that’s definitely the case.
If you don’t use lube during anal, you may end up feeling like someone stuck a pole up your ass — and there’s nothing pleasurable about that.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller, who sits on our medical review board and is a social psychologist and the host of the Sex and Psychology Podcast, told me there’s one particularly common reason people like to use numbing lubes.
“Some people use desensitizing lubricants during sex, most often during anal stimulation in order to reduce pain or sensitivity,” he explained.
While numbing lubes might sound like the perfect solution if anal sex causes discomfort, they’re not always the best — or safest — choice.
There’s a lot of controversy among experts about numbing lubes and whether they should be used at all.
That said, numbing lubes continue to exist, and let’s be real — if it’s out there, people are going to try it.
So, if you’re interested in learning more about desensitizing lubes, we’ll break down their ingredients, safety, and when and how to use them.
Editor’s Note: Although we are providing detailed information about numbing lubricants, we do not endorse the use of such products, as they can lead to injury. If you use numbing lubricants, we encourage you to proceed with caution and care.
What Are Numbing Or Desensitizing Lubes?
As the name suggests, numbing lubes are designed to numb or desensitize certain parts of the body upon application.
For our purposes, the terms “numbing” and “desensitizing” will be used interchangeably, since some products don’t make you totally numb — which, as we’ll discuss, can actually be a good thing.
Dr. Lehmiller, who sits on our medical review board, explained why people should be careful when using numbing lubes. He told me:
“While [desensitizing lubricants] may temporarily increase comfort, too much desensitization can lead people to engage in longer or more aggressive sex than they otherwise would have, which can create a risk for injury.
“Pain is an adaptive response that we should pay attention to, and sex isn’t supposed to be painful. If sex is painful, it’s important to figure out what’s causing it (sometimes it’s due to a medical condition that needs to be treated) and to consider a range of solutions for relieving pain, including relaxation exercises, experimenting with different positions, and adjusting speed and depth of thrusting during intercourse.”
There are several ingredients commonly used in numbing lubes which enable these unique products to reduce physical sensations, and we’ll talk more about them in just a bit.
People have a buttload of questions when it comes to desensitizing lubes, and some of the most common questions include “How long does it take for numbing lube to work?” and “When does numbing lube wear off?”
Honestly, there’s not one singular answer to either of these questions, as every numbing lube will be different.
If you want to know about a specific product, read the details on the bottle and it should tell you what you want to know.
Generally, most numbing lubes take 10 to 15 minutes to fully kick in if you use the recommended amount — but you’ll want to test this out first to make sure that’s the case before jumping into rough anal sex or pegging.
It’s important to note, too, that each desensitizing lube will give you a different degree of sensation loss; some products may make you almost totally numb, whereas others will only be moderately desensitizing.
Ultimately, you’ll probably have to do a little experimentation to find a lube that helps you hit the sweet spot.
Every lube will last a specific amount of time, but Dr. Regina R. Whitfield Kekessi, OB/GYN, added that the effects of desensitizing lubes are completely resolved “in one to two hours after one application.”
What’s The Difference Between Numbing Lube And A Numbing Spray?
Though a numbing lube and a numbing spray sound like the same thing, they’re quite different, and you don’t want to use one in place of the other!
Beyond their formulations — numbing lubes are more viscous and thick and are generally silicone or water-based, whereas numbing sprays are lightweight liquids — there’s a difference in their overall purpose.
Numbing lubes are generally used to lessen uncomfortable sensations sometimes associated with anal sex, but they’re also made to add lubrication, which makes most sexual activities more pleasurable — wetter really is better!
Numbing sprays, however, are used to prevent premature ejaculation in men — they’re not designed for decreasing pain during anal sex.
Numbing sprays feel drastically different from lubes, with one writer describing a spray as feeling “gummy” and “like an anti-lube.”
According to Dr. Karyn Eilber, M.D., a urologist and the creator of Glissant, a natural lube brand, “men who have premature ejaculation may use [numbing lubes] so that climax can be delayed.”
But because numbing lubes can make you too numb, that delayed climax might not ever cum.
What Ingredients Are Used In Numbing Lubes And Are They Safe?
Several common ingredients give numbing lubes their desensitizing effect but many of them have stirred up some debate within the medical community regarding their safety.
Regardless, you’re always better off knowing what’s in any lube before you use it.
You’ll often find the following ingredients in numbing lubes:
Lidocaine and benzocaine are two numbing agents that you’ll commonly find in desensitizing lubes.
You might have heard of lidocaine before if you’ve gone to the dentist to get a cavity filled, but when the ingredient is used in a personal lubricant, it can cause irritation, swelling, and dryness — everything you don’t want during sex.
While it can be helpful to use a lube with lidocaine externally to help ease any pelvic pain, using one internally may leave you feeling like you stood in the frozen food aisle for way too long with your pants off.
If you think that sounds bad, brace yourself because I’m about to share the potential horrors of using benzocaine in a lube.
A recent study examined the case of a man who used a condom that contained benzocaine lube.
The study suggests that the benzocaine contributed to “penile gangrene” — meaning tissue death on and around the man’s penis due to lack of blood flow.
If your jaw fell to the floor or you’re reflexively touching your own crotch in horror, I don’t blame you.
Fortunately, there are safer numbing lube ingredients that are naturally derived.
Mint and menthol (an ingredient made from natural or synthetic mints) are common ingredients in numbing lubes, though they’re also often found in sensitizing lubes, too.
The concentration of mint and menthol is what determines whether the ingredients will create a sensation — or take it away.
Both mint and menthol have the potential to irritate skin but many people can tolerate them well in small doses while using numbing lubes.
Capsaicin is another ingredient you’ll often see in numbing lubes, though you can also find it in some warming lubricants, too.
While capsaicin makes some people feel itchy and irritated, others feel just fine when using a numbing lube that contains this ingredient.
Glycerin and parabens are often found in a multitude of personal lubricants, including those that have a numbing effect.
Neither ingredient is something you want near your genitals, however.
With any new product, you should always do a patch test first to make sure you don’t have a poor reaction.
This may also give you an idea of exactly what the lube will feel like and how much time it takes for the numbing effect to develop, as this can vary between different products.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Numbing Lubes?
Although there are a variety of reasons to love desensitizing lubes, there are several disadvantages to them. It’s helpful to understand the pros and cons before you use one for the first time.
Pros Of Numbing Lubes:
- Numbing lubes can make anal sex (including double anal) and pegging a lot more comfortable by dulling pain.
- Since numbing lubes are primarily used for anal sex, they’re formulated with ingredients that provide a slick, cushiony feel.
- Desensitizing lubes usually come in water-based or silicone-based formulas and both are compatible with latex condoms.
Cons Of Numbing Lubes:
- Using too much of a numbing lube — or one that’s too strong — can put you at risk of injury, and you may not realize it until it’s too late. For this reason, some medical professionals advise against using numbing lubes entirely.
- Ingredients in numbing lubes can be irritating or even potentially toxic, and finding formulations without harmful ingredients is surprisingly difficult.
- Some studies suggest that frequently using lubes for anal sex, including numbing lubes, could contribute to an increased risk of STIs or STDs, though it’s unclear what other factors might affect this outcome.
- It’s generally recommended that you don’t use numbing lubes for activities beyond anal sex, making them less versatile.
Read on to learn more about when they should be used.
How And When Should I Use Numbing Lubes?
Article Note: Although we are providing detailed information about numbing lubricants, we do not endorse the use of such products, as they can lead to injury. If you use numbing lubricants, we encourage you to proceed with caution and care.
Knowing exactly when and how to use different types of lubricants is a sexy superpower that can help you turn the pleasure of almost any type of sexual activity up to the max — but using the wrong lube at the wrong time can result in some major regret.
Most people use desensitizing lubes for exploring the backdoor, also known as anal sex.
Why? Because, as much fun as anal can be, it can be uncomfortable at times, especially if you’re not using enough lube or if you’re rushing into things too quickly. This is especially true if you’re experimenting with double penetration of the anus or vagina.
Metaphorically speaking, trying to fit a train through a tunnel that’s too small is going to be a bad time for everyone involved. Ouch.
Desensitizing lubes don’t give you the endless ability to rush into anal, nor do they allow you to have as much anal sex as you want.
They do allow the muscles in your rear end to relax and offer varying degrees of numbing effects depending on the product, which makes butt play a lot easier, whether you’re using a toy while pegging or having anal sex with a partner.
Pjur’s Backdoor Glide* is a great example of a safe product that relaxes your anal muscles without making you feel totally numb.
A high concentration of jojoba oil gives this lube a great consistency and also relaxes the anal muscles. Not only that, but jojoba oil is one of only four ingredients — which is pretty awesome for a lube!
As therapist and sex educator Aida Manduley, LCSW, explained to me, using a numbing lube externally after anal sex can sometimes be helpful, as well.
She said that using a numbing product in this manner enables you to feel everything during penetration — which will help to reduce the likelihood of you or your partner getting injured. She told me:
“After penetration, if someone with frequent pelvic pain or discomfort wants to apply a numbing agent to ease the area, that can also be a useful time for a numbing cream.”
How do you know if desensitizing lubes are for you?
As Dr. Lehmiller, who sits on our medical review board, mentioned earlier, a person should pay attention to pain because it’s trying to tell you something — and sex isn’t supposed to be painful.
If it is, it’s important to get to the root cause and consider other solutions for relief, such as relaxation techniques, changing positions, or altering the speed or depth of penetration before reaching for a numbing lube as your first line of defense.
There are a variety of lubes out there that can add more slip and cushion without causing numbness, and you can learn more about your options by checking out our in-depth lube guide.
So, if you’re someone who is new to anal or you frequently experience pain — and not just mild discomfort — with anal sex, you might want to skip jumping into desensitizing lubes ass-first.
Can You Use Numbing Lubes For Vaginal Intercourse?
Since so many numbing lubricants are made with strong ingredients, using one for vaginal intercourse puts you at risk of experiencing general irritation in your vaginal area (vaginitis), so it’s probably something you want to avoid.
Likewise, lubricants designed for anal sex may not be entirely compatible with the pH of a vagina.
The rectum has a neutral pH between 7 and 8 compared to that of a vagina, which is normally less than 4.5.
For this reason, anal lubricants are recommended to have a pH range between 5.5 to 7.
Any product that raises vaginal pH may lead to an increased risk of infection, so it’s best to avoid using a lube designed for anal sex during vaginal penetration.
Can You Use Numbing Lubes For Oral Sex?
Likewise, don’t use a desensitizing lube during oral sex.
A numbed mouth will probably result in some seriously sloppy technique — we’re talking “Why does it feel like a dog is slobbering on me?” sloppy.
Additionally, having a thick numbing lube in your mouth could be a choking hazard.
Finally, if you’re someone with sensitive skin or if you have genital herpes, you’ll probably want to avoid numbing lubes altogether because some of their ingredients can be harsh.
If you want to use a desensitizing lube, you should do so only during anal sex — and make sure to be aware of your body to avoid injuries.
Can You Use Numbing Lube When Trying To Conceive?
You might be wondering if numbing lubes are safe to use when trying to conceive. The answer is a little complicated.
If you’re using a numbing lube exclusively for anal sex, this alone is very unlikely to get you pregnant, of course.
Used in this manner, a numbing lubricant probably won’t impact your chances of conceiving unless the product gets too close to your vagina or penis and isn’t washed off before vaginal sex.
However, you do not want to use this type of lube vaginally if you’re actively trying to conceive a child.
Anyone trying to conceive should use lubricants that are hydroxyethylcellulose-based because they don’t hinder sperm motility.
→ For more, read: What Is Hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC) And Why Is It Used In Lube?
Desensitizing lubes can potentially offer a unique sexual experience — if you understand how to use them safely.
Obviously, numbing lubes aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay!
Whether you’re already a fan or you’re just curious about trying your first, it’s important to know what you’re getting into before slathering a desensitizing lube all over your bits.
Who knows — you might find that numbing lubes open the (back) door for you to explore exciting new affairs!