A few years ago, Greg, a pseudonymous London-based guy in his mid-20s, hooked up with another guy who brought a few sachets of lube with him. In preparation for anal, the hookup began to slather the lube on Greg’s dick. But within seconds, Greg felt his junk start to tingle. Soon afterwards, it was entirely numb. “It took ages to cum, and my dick carried on being numb for a couple of hours,” he writes via DM. “I don’t want to overstate how annoyed I was. I think the guy thought it was something everyone would be grateful for. But it’s horrible stuff, and a terrible idea. Would not recommend!”
Especially in the last few years, a handful of numbing condoms, sprays, lubes and gels have trickled into pharmacies and sex shops, most of which are marketed as solutions for premature ejaculation (as well as to numb the potential pain of anal). Ingredients vary, and therefore, so does the extent of the resulting numbness. But these so-called sex aids generally contain either lidocaine or benzocaine, both of which are anesthetics generally used to dull sensation before blood tests, minor surgeries and, when taken orally, minor health issues like a sore throat or an irritated mouth.
Because humans have been horny since the dawn of humankind, variations of numbing lube date back centuries — maybe even millennia. For instance, during Japan’s Edo period, which lasted from 1607 to 1867, research indicates clove oil was used regularly as lube. It’s not quite as intense as anesthetic, but it does warm the skin and relax the muscles, the combination of which can have a pain-killing effect. Unsurprisingly, it’s still a staple ingredient in some modern “desensitizing” lubes today.
It took centuries for any of these products to be verified as safe and credible — in fact, it wasn’t until 2013 that the FDA approved a penis-numbing spray containing lidocaine. The same year, however, a slew of articles trickled out to claim it had “nearly ruined” sex lives, with plenty of people lamenting that it either killed their sensation or led to injury. Moreover, there’s almost unanimous consensus amongst sex and health-care professionals that they’re an absolutely terrible idea.
“Numbing lube is a provocative one,” says Topher Taylor, host of the T-Spot podcast and resident sex educator at gay sex store chain CloneZone UK. “If it’s going to be used, it should be used gently to take the edge off of stinging sensations — especially those new to anal, or who are very sensitive.” Even then, medical advice specifically states that only a pea-sized amount should be used. The problem is, you don’t know how numb you’ll go until you’ve tried it — and by that point, it’s often too late.
Which is why Taylor advises taking a “test run” before fucking a partner to see how it feels. “Sometimes a drop too many takes it from gently numb to fully numb,” he explains. It’s also important to note that, unless you use a condom, the numbing product will rub off and make your partner numb, too. Not everyone wants that, so make sure to ask for consent before you numb the both of you.
Still, the even bigger problem here is that numbing products don’t even solve the problems they promise to. Barry McCarthy has spent decades researching premature ejaculation, authoring and co-authoring books such as Coping with Premature Ejaculation: How to Overcome PE, Please Your Partner & Have Great Sex, written in partnership with Michael E. Metz. If anyone knows how to delay a cum shot, it’s this guy.
“Trying to reduce arousal using desensitizing creams is a self-defeating strategy,” he explains, reiterating that he in no way endorses numbing lube. Instead, he says premature ejaculation is best addressed holistically. Sexual partners can start by setting short, realistic goals — fucking for three to nine minutes, for example — and learn to recognize when they’re about to cum. They can also practice masturbation tricks like the “stop-start” technique — otherwise known as edging — which involves jerking until you’re close to orgasm, stopping before you cum and then continuously stopping and starting again. This practice helps you learn to control your orgasm while still being able to feel the full suite of sensations sex and masturbation bring.
McCarthy also suggests trying different positions, and “especially different types of thrusting.” His research has found “it’s hardest to control ejaculation in men when they’re on top using short, rapid thrusting motions,” so switch up positions and communicate with sexual partners to tackle the issue.
These are techniques advised by actual sex coaches and researchers, and they’re arguably far more effective in the long-run than sprays and cream that completely numb your boner and remove all sensation. In fact, things like edging, breathing exercises and positional alterations can help cure premature ejaculation permanently, while numbing products simply offer a poor, temporary Band-Aid.
Another issue with numbing products is that they prevent you (and possibly your partner) from feeling pain, which can end up being pretty dangerous. As Taylor confirms, injuries like tears, anal fissures and even penile fractures can result when you can’t feel your parts, and it doesn’t take long to find online horror stories of this happening. One Reddit user tried numbing lube for pain during anal sex with her partner, and reported: “It wasn’t good at all. It numbed his penis a bit and worse, I didn’t feel much, so I didn’t realize there was tearing down there, and I ended up with an anal fissure afterwards.”
Even when numbing creams or gels are prescribed for conditions like vaginismus, a painful condition that causes the muscles around the vagina to involuntarily contract during sex, they come with careful instruction and, of course, medical expertise. Buying it over-the-counter is a different story entirely.
Greg draws parallels between numbing creams and chemsex, or fucking on a combination of drugs — for example, GHB, meth and mephedrone — designed to give you an intense, out-of-body experience. “I’m assuming people who use numbing lubes want to not cum as quickly, or they want the bottom to slow them down,” he says. “To me, that’s not that different to the way some people use drugs in sex. I’ve fucked guys who were high who have been literally bleeding, yet still they’re like, ‘No, please don’t stop!’ It’s insane.”
Although there are legitimate reasons to use numbing sprays — the aforementioned vaginismus is one, genital pain is another — they’re not exactly comparable to simply wanting to fuck for hours to delay orgasm, or worse, push your body way past its limits and cause serious long-term damage. So, next time you show up to a hookup with a lube sachet in-hand, just go with the regular stuff instead.