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Why the Secret to More Pleasurable Sex Is Microscopic

It’s not just you and your partner(s) getting in on the game: when it comes to sexual satisfaction, there are also billions of microbes along for the ride.

6 minutes

25 Citations

Sexual pleasure is deeply nuanced, complex, and personal. It’s not just a physical act, but an emotional and mental one, too, and (when done well!) it involves multiple senses and bodily functions—including, surprisingly, your microbiome. 

Yep, it’s not just you and your partner(s) getting in on the game: when it comes to sexual satisfaction, billions of microbes are also along for the ride. So how, exactly, does the vaginal microbiome play a role in sexual health? And how can we tap this rich ecosystem to be more empowered participants in our sex lives? 

Let’s explore some potential ways the vaginal microbiome influences sexual satisfaction, and share some tips on how to optimize your microbes for maximum pleasure. 

The Protective Role of Your Vaginal Microbiome

The vaginal microbiome (VMB) is composed of billions of bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic organisms—all of which work together to protect your reproductive health and inhibit the spread of pathogens in your vagina.1,2,3,4

Your VMB and its attendant bacterial species are responsible for the everyday functioning of your vagina, and they’re essential when it comes to maintaining your sexual and gynecological health. Numerous studies have shown links between the health of the VMB and common, pernicious infections such as bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and urinary tract infections.5,6,7 A stable and protective VMB controls your vagina’s “self-cleaning” capabilities, fights off STIs and HIV, helps promote positive pregnancy outcomes, and even seems to reduce the risk of gynecological cancer.8,9,10

Truthfully, it’s hard to overstate just how important the VMB is to your gynecological well-being. But while its protective role has been the subject of recent research, its function as a lever in sexual pleasure has been much less investigated.

How the VMB Might Influence Sexual Pleasure 

What if your vaginal microbiome doesn’t only prevent pain—but play a role in pleasure? Here are a few potential ways that a strong VMB might enhance sexual satisfaction. 


Vaginal dryness is often cited as a reason sex is less pleasurable, or even painful. And it is alarmingly common: nearly 20% of women over 18 report vaginal dryness during sex, and over 50% of postmenopausal women over 51 years old suffer from mild or severe vaginal dryness.11 

Vaginal dryness is often linked to a drop in or loss of estrogen, which results in less glycogen in vaginal epithelial cells.11 Without glycogen, Lactobacillus crispatus—a stable and protective bacterial species in the vagina—has trouble colonizing.12 One 2011 study highlighted this inverse relationship, showing that postmenopausal women who experienced dryness had less lactobacilli in their microbial makeup.13 

What this correlation shows is that supporting your VMB could go a long way towards improving your sex life. And if you do experience dryness, there are ways to prevent it from being a barrier to sexual pleasure. Which brings us to…


As a sexual enhancer for people with vaginas, few tools show as much benefit as lubrication. Lubrication is often touted as key to female sexual pleasure—and indeed, studies do show a strong correlation between the use of lube and sexual satisfaction.14 There’s the sheer tactility of it all, of course, but lube can also go a long way to preventing vaginal microabrasions that can cause irritation and create potential sources of infection. 

However, choosing a lube from among the many commercially available can be tricky. While there are obvious considerations—water- vs silicone-based, “organic” vs flavored—there are also less obvious ones, including how lube might interact with your microbiome. 

Many commercially available lubes are hyperosmotic, meaning they drain and dehydrate moisture from cells, potentially causing vaginal tissue to shrink or thin. Instead of moisturizing, hyperosmolal vaginal lubricants can disrupt epithelial barrier properties. This puts you at risk for abrasions and cell damage that can contribute to infections and potentially lead to increased dryness.15  Pre-clinical research (conducted on cells, not humans) has found that antiseptic lube containing an ingredient called chlorhexidine gluconate potentially harms the vaginal microbiome by reducing the growth of Lactobacillus species.16

Not every company tests for osmolality, and labels like “natural” or “clean” don’t necessarily mean the lube will play well with your VMB. Going the extra step to seek out a lube that was designed with the health of your vaginal microbiome in mind can mean less pain and discomfort down the line.


As with so much of women’s health, the female orgasm remains understudied. As it is not biologically necessary to conceive, researchers are still conflicted over its purpose, and (unsurprisingly) there are no studies looking at how or if the female orgasm impacts the vaginal microbiome.

That said, we do know that orgasms provide an incredible stress release, flooding your body with the feel-good hormones dopamine and oxytocin, while potentially lowering the stress hormone cortisol.17,18 Similarly, studies have shown that high levels of chronic stress correlate to lower sexual arousal, and one study found that chronic stress and its resultant increase in cortisol may reduce Lactobacillus species abundance in the vaginal microbiome, causing dysbiosis and potentially increasing susceptibility to genitourinary infections.19,20  

Additionally, there is a clear correlation between stress and the gut microbiome through the gut-brain axis, with numerous studies showing how both chronic and acute stress can cause intestinal inflammation, increase the levels of pathogenic bacteria while decreasing “good” bacteria, and contribute to “leaky gut” syndrome: all evidence of microbial dysbiosis.21 And thanks to the gut-vagina axis, these GI concerns might also correlate with vaginal dysbiosis in some people.22

So, while there may be no evidence as of yet that demonstrates a direct positive link between orgasm and the health of the vaginal microbiome, our advice is to (wink, wink) be your own research subject.  


The unfortunate reality is that anywhere from 10–20% of American women experience recurrent or persistent pain during sexual intercourse (clinical term: dyspareunia).23 Pain during sex can mean many things and have many causes—physical, mental, and emotional—and, as with most gynecological complaints, this is an area that suffers from a lack of medical research. 

The physical causes for dyspareunia can range from a lack of foreplay, to dryness, inflammation, and infections, to pelvic floor issues or vaginal atrophy.24 Researchers are now beginning to explore how the vaginal microbiome might impact one aspect of this: the pelvic floor. One 2022 study, for example, showed that postpartum women with strong pelvic floors had populations of lactobacilli that were four times higher than those of the weak pelvic floor group.25 

To recap

If you are suffering from pain during sexual activity, it’s best to explore all possible causes, which could mean working with an OB-GYN, pelvic floor therapist, or sex therapist. But it may also be worth considering how you can protect or improve the health of your vaginal microbiome, through measures such as avoiding douching or cleaning with harsh soaps, taking a well-formulated vaginal probiotic, and limiting unprotected sex with multiple partners.

Getting in Bed With Your Microbes

We strongly believe that every person has the right to a healthy, fulfilling sex life—and that the microbiome has a role to play in achieving this goal. While we wait for science to close the gender data gap, we advocate for doing your own research: getting to know your vaginal microbiome and finding what feels good to you. A more fulfilling sex life (and happier microbes) awaits. 


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