Creams for a better orgasm — Do they work for women?

Dear Alice,

Recently there have been creams for women sold over-the-counter to improve sexual enjoyment for women. Are these lotions safe for women and the men who love them, and do they work? I am familiar with a particular lotion called "Viacreme."

Dear Reader,  

There’s a lack of research on the effectiveness of these sexual enhancing creams, often marketed as arousal gels. However, most are low risk if used as directed, especially those that require a prescription. Moreover, consulting with a health care provider beforehand can help you determine if someone’s at increased risk to experience any complications. The product Viacreme is no longer on the market, but other products are available.   

Before lumping all arousal gels into one box, it’s good to note that a person’s experience may depend on which brand they use. They’re all intended to be rubbed onto the clitoris about 30 minutes before sex or masturbation, but they differ in their active ingredient. Those that contain l-arginine usually require a prescription, and therefore a visit with a health care provider. This is due to its interaction with medications such as blood thinners, certain diuretics, nitroglycerin, some high blood pressure medications, erectile dysfunction drugs, and diabetes medications. However, l-arginine shows great potential as it increases blood flow to the genital area — specifically the clitoris when applied directly. Since the clitoris is a bundle of nerve endings, more blood supply often translates into increased sensation.   

For more accessible options, other arousal gels come in a wide variety and are sold either online or in shops that sell sex toys and products. They can contain cinnamon oil, menthol, gingko biloba, peppermint, cannabidiol (CBD), or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, depending on local regulations). While exploring different arousal gels, it’s a good idea to carefully look over the ingredient list. Allergies or dislike of certain ingredients may be a reason to avoid that brand to prevent any mishaps during your sexual ventures. Different brands also have varying intensity in the sensations they cause so it may be best to go with one that’s marketed as mild when just starting out. When experimenting with arousal gels, side effects may include irritation, headaches, swelling, or chest pains. If these side effects persist or become severe, then it’s recommended to discontinue use and seek medical help. As a final consideration, it’s wise to keep in mind that oil-based products aren’t meant to be used with latex condoms or silicone toys. For those set on using oil-based arousal gels, you could consider switching to polyurethane condoms and stashing those silicone vibrators away for another time.  

While arousal gels may be helpful, they’re not a miracle fix. Before use, it’s a good idea to reflect on the goal of using them. Are you looking to spice up your sex life, or are you having difficulty enjoying the experience overall? It’s worth mentioning that arousal gels aren’t intended to create sensation but to enhance it. For those having difficulty experiencing an orgasm at all, it’s unlikely arousal gels on their own will help. However, these individuals wouldn’t be alone, as it’s estimated that about 50 percent of women don’t experience an orgasm during sex. In some cases, difficulty in experiencing an orgasm is rooted in relationship satisfaction or self-esteem. In terms of relationship satisfaction, even with casual partners, good communication can go a long way in enhancing the experience. For issues more rooted in self-esteem, talking with a mental health professional may help.   

So, are arousal gels worth it? Some people get significant pleasure from them, while others experience less of a sensation-boosting effect, or no effect at all. Still, others use them a few times before feeling any difference, cultivating the sensations. While it remains inconclusive just how well these products work, they remain a relatively low risk option for sexual exploration.    

Last updated Jul 23, 2021
Originally published Oct 18, 2002

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