While Cardi B’s WAP song has elicited a lot of attention to vaginal lubrication especially during arousal, being “wet” does not always line up with being sexually aroused. Wait, what? Yes, you heard me correct. Drum roll, please…we use the term arousal non-concordance to describe this phenomenon. Many of my vulva owner patients have described a situation where they were having sex with their partner who exclaims with excitement, “you’re so wet” thinking that they were turned on. Yet, they didn’t feel aroused at all. This phenomenon is particularly more common in vulva owners however can affect people of all genders. Emily Nagoski speaks about arousal non-concordance in her amazing book, Come As You Are, where she finds that there is about a 10 percent overlap between how women/vulva owners are responding to a situation and what stimuli they feel subjectively aroused by. What this means, is that when someone experiences lubrication it does not automatically mean that they are aroused. However, Nagoski finds that penis owners, on the other hand, have about a 50 percent overlap between genital response and subjective sexual arousal.
So, how do we know this phenomenon actually happens? Ready to geek out with me? Science. Many years ago, researchers put probes in participant’s vaginas and on participant’s penises. At the same time, the researchers performed a functional MRI of their brain while showing them sexually explicit material. Then the researchers gathered subjective arousal data to see if the participants felt aroused or not. Want to know the results? The brains of the vagina owners didn’t always tell the vaginas that the person was aroused. The brains of people with penises typically sent the message. To break this all down, let’s look at physiological vs subjective arousal. Physiological arousal happens secondary to physiological responses, such as increased blood flow to the genitals and increased heart rate. Subjective arousal is being actively engaged mentally during sexual activity. It is when physiological and subjective sexual arousal are not the same that arousal non-concordance ensues.
Why does “wetness” happen? Genital lubrication is a natural physiological process and is essential to protecting your genitals from injury or tearing. And, lubrication is the body’s way of self-cleaning, retaining moisture in the vulvovaginal tissues, balancing the microbiome, and keeping it free of infection. Individuals can also become lubricated from general touch that is not arousing – including pelvic exams and even sexual assaults. During these uncomfortable experiences, genital lubrication is a sign that the stimuli are sexually relevant and not appealing. Emily Nagoski further describes this event when someone becomes lubricated during a stimuli that may be disgusting or horrifying, this is just a signal to your brain that the stimuli is sexually relevant and that a genital response does not signify desire or pleasure. Simply, it is just sexually relevant.
So how do we know if we are aroused? Your subjective arousal will win every time. If you are into the intimate moment with your partner and are feeling aroused between your ears, it doesn’t matter what the arousal looks like between your legs. If your subjective arousal is turned on but your genitals are not, use lube! Using a personal lubricant not only helps to prevent micro-tearing in the vulvovaginal tissues but enhances sexual pleasure!
Remember Emily Nagoski’s words: genital wetness does not automatically mean that you or your partner is aroused, it just means your body is being subjected to a sexually relevant stimulus.