The Truth About Arousal Gels
- Arousal gels are products designed to amplify sensations or intensify sexual experiences.
- How well they work depends on individual physiology, the specific brand or formula and even psychological expectations.
- Everyone's body responds differently and it may take some trial and error to find the product that works best for you.
Arousal gels are products designed to amplify sensations or intensify sexual experiences. And these tools have found their way into the possession of many people seeking new avenues of pleasure.
Before trying them yourself, let us separate fact from fiction so you can make informed decisions about what to try first.
Different types of arousal gels
"Arousal gels are topical products that increase blood flow to the genital area," said Lisa Lawless, Ph.D., a clinical psychotherapist with a background in sexual health and the CEO of Holistic Wisdom in Bend, Oregon. "They provide tingling, warming or cooling sensations. How well they work will depend on individual physiology, the specific brand or formula and even psychological expectations."
They come in various types, each designed to cater to different preferences and needs. These include:
- Warming gels. These gels contain ingredients such as cinnamon or capsaicin that create a warming sensation on skin contact. The warmth can enhance blood flow to the area, increasing sensitivity and potentially intensifying pleasure.
- Cooling gels. This type of gel contains menthol or peppermint oil, creating a cooling and tingling sensation. These sensations can heighten arousal and add a sensory dimension to intimate experiences.
- Tingling gels. Similar to cooling gels, tingling gels create a tingling or prickling sensation. Ingredients such as niacin or certain herbs can induce this effect and contribute to heightened sensitivity and excitement.
- Hybrid gels. A combination of warming and cooling elements provides a balanced sensory experience. These hybrids aim to offer the best of both worlds, providing sensations that vary over time.
- CBD-infused gels. Some arousal gels are infused with cannabidiol (CBD). The potential of the CBD infusion may enhance relaxation and sensation and provide an additional layer of pleasure for some people.
- Flavored gels. Flavored gels add a playful twist to intimate moments. They come in various flavors, such as strawberry, chocolate or mint, and are recommended for oral activities.
Since individual reactions to these gels vary, what is pleasurable for one person may not necessarily be for another.
"Everyone's body responds differently and it may take some trial and error to find the product that works best for you," said Ketan Parmar, M.D., a Mumbai-based forensic psychiatrist and sexologist. "However, with the right product and proper use, these products can be a great way to take your sex life to the next level and enhance both partners' orgasmic experience."
Rhiannon John, a New York City-based sexologist who works at Bedbible as a sex toy reviewer, said arousal gels often contain vasodilators, or compounds that promote increased blood flow to the applied area.
"This can enhance sensitivity and create sensations like warming, tingling or cooling," she said. "These sensations may lead to heightened arousal and pleasure. However, the effectiveness of arousal gels can vary from person to person. Factors such as individual sensitivity, body chemistry and personal preferences all play a role in determining how well a particular arousal gel works for someone."
It's a personal decision to use arousal gels, but it may be an easier decision to make with your partner's input, according to Martha Tara Lee, Ph.D., D.H.S., an AASECT-certified sex educator and clinical sexologist with Eros Coaching in Singapore.
"Some individuals may find them helpful in enhancing their sexual experiences, while others may not feel the need for them," she said. "If you're considering using an arousal gel, it can be helpful to discuss it with your partner and consider trying it together."
What's in an arousal gel?
Arousal gels contain a range of ingredients for unique sensations such as the following:
- Capsaicin in warming gels creates warmth and increases blood flow. It is naturally present in chili peppers.
- CBD offers relaxation and heightened sensations in CBD-infused gels.
- Cinnamon produces heat and enhances blood circulation in warming gels.
- L-arginine improves blood flow but may worsen herpes outbreaks.
- Menthol and peppermint oil induce cooling and tingling in cooling gels.
- Niacin (vitamin B3) causes vasodilation for a tingling sensation in some gels.
Another common ingredient in arousal gels is glycerin, which can cause irritation or sensitivities, especially in people prone to infections. Also, artificial flavors and fragrances may trigger allergic reactions. You may consider looking for arousal gels that use natural ingredients for flavor and fragrance.
"Be aware of the ingredients in the arousal gel you choose, especially if you have known sensitivities or allergies," John said. "Additionally, some of these ingredients—like flavorings, fragrances and high amounts of glycerine—can potentially disrupt the vagina or anus and lead to irritation or infection."
"It's a good practice to test the product on a small patch of skin before applying it to sensitive areas," said Lilith Foxx, a board-certified sexologist and inclusivity consultant in Houston. "If you're prone to infections or have sensitive skin, you might be more susceptible to reactions. Always read the ingredient list to identify potential allergens."
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How to use an arousal gel
Since each individual's preferences and sensitivities to arousal gels are unique, Lawless said these tips may prove helpful:
- Conduct a patch test by applying a small amount of the product to the forearm and wait 24 hours to check for any adverse reactions.
- Apply a small amount to the genital area before sexual activity and always follow the manufacturer's directions for the best experience.
- Arousal gels are more concentrated than lubricants and typically only require a couple of drops applied with your fingertip. Wash your finger after application.
- Allow it to absorb into the skin for several minutes before applying lubrication or you may inadvertently remove it before it takes effect. You can use more if you're not feeling much sensation after application.
- If irritation occurs, discontinue use immediately and wash the affected area with gentle soap and water.
- Avoid using the product if it's incompatible with the type of condoms or sex toys you're using.
"When considering any sexual enhancement product, it's essential to maintain an open dialogue with partners and to listen to your body," Foxx said. "If something feels off or uncomfortable, stop using the product.
"Additionally, if you're considering using an arousal gel in conjunction with condoms or toys—especially those made of silicone—ensure the product is compatible and won't degrade the condom material or toy."
Other key considerations
"I do recommend arousal gels for some people," Lawless said. "However, it may be best to review that decision with a healthcare provider if you're already experiencing a health condition such as vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction."
Here are some guidelines for ensuring the safety of arousal gels:
- Ingredient clarity. Choose products with transparent ingredient lists.
- Reputable brands. Opt for well-known manufacturers with a history of quality.
- Natural and hypoallergenic. Defer to natural and hypoallergenic formulations.
- Avoid exaggerated claims. Be cautious of unrealistic claims and promises.
- Regulatory approval. Check for FDA or relevant authority approval.
"In a therapeutic context, I've found arousal gels can be beneficial for some individuals, especially those who might be experiencing decreased sensitivity or arousal challenges," Foxx said. "They can be a tool in the toolbox of sexual wellness, but as with all intimate products, it's crucial to choose reputable brands and know your body's reactions."
While they can provide temporary sensations and heightened arousal, there are potential drawbacks to consider. For instance, arousal gels have the potential to cause irritation to the skin and, if not used carefully, may inadvertently make their way into the vagina. This can disrupt the pH balance and increase the risk of infection.
Foxx also noted it's important to be cautious of using arousal gels to mask underlying symptoms of sexual dysfunction.
"If you're experiencing issues related to sexual desire, arousal or satisfaction, it's advisable to address these concerns directly rather than relying solely on external products," John said. "Open communication with a healthcare professional can help identify any underlying issues and determine the most appropriate course of action to enhance your sexual well-being."
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Personal anecdotes and experiences often form the basis of discussions concerning the effectiveness of arousal gels. As a result, the experiences vary widely from person to person. While these products can contribute positively to some intimate experiences, it's imperative to maintain a realistic outlook and consider arousal gels as just one of several available enhancers.
"The effectiveness of arousal gels can vary from person to person," Lee said. "Some individuals may find them helpful in increasing arousal and pleasure, while others may not experience any noticeable effects. It's important to keep in mind that sexual arousal is a complex process influenced by various factors, and what works for one person may not work for another."
John said arousal gels are designed for external use only and that they should be only be applied to the skin around intimate areas, such as the penis, clitoris or vulva. And she recommends people avoid using the gels internally, such as for penetration or as a lubricant. Need a lubricant? Choose a product specifically designed for internal use.
"Remember that sexual pleasure and arousal can be achieved without the use of external products," Lee added. "Open communication, exploration and experimentation with different techniques and activities can also contribute to enhancing sexual experiences. If you have any concerns or questions about using arousal gels or any other sexual products, it's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional."