Q: I was in a sex shop recently and saw a bunch of products that were called “arousal gels” and similar for women. I am curious, do they actually work? What do they do? And if they do work, what would you recommend?
Oh, yes! Arousal gels are very real and, for the most part, yes they absolutely do work! I say “for the most part” because while the ingredients in them will almost always create a sensation, arousal and libido for women is far more than just a physical sensation, so if you're not in the head-space for sex and arousal they might be ineffective in the way you expect, and there are some women who really just don't like them.
There are two main types of arousal gels, ones that contain menthol and ones that do not. Sometimes they can be mixed into lubricants, but most often, for the concentrated and stronger effect, they are an individual product (usually in the form of a gel, cream or oil drops) to be used specifically on the clitoris.
In the cases of the menthol drops, the active ingredient is mostly peppermint oil which, if you've ever used a menthol foot rub, or peppermint massage oil or even something like Dencorub on a sore muscle, you'll know it creates a cooling and tingling effect on the skin. Imagine popping a dab of it on the clitoris... It can heighten sensation and make the clitoris ultra sensitive (please NEVER use Dencorub. Seriously. Ouch. And not good for your bits, I merely used the example as one that you'll recognise the sensation of).
The problem with menthol-based creams is (kind of like how I said ouch at the Dencorub) many women can find that cooling sensation on the clitoris rather painful and unenjoyable. I get that. I'm one of them. To me it's a burny, ouchy sensation, nothing sexy at all. Although one of my best mates swears by it.
The ones I like are herbal ones that have no menthol or peppermint whatsoever and usually work with a combination of herbs like clove and rosemary and cinnamon. You just put a drop or two onto the clitoris and it soaks into the membrane there and the active ingredients open up the little blood vessels in the area, creating more blood flow and therefore more sensation into the clitoris, while the other herbs serve to tingle and tickle the nerves.
The benefits of using one can be amazing. Not only will your clit tingle and throb and beg for attention, it can also help with learning how to achieve multiple orgasms (with the area still being sensitive and in need of touching even after you've come), and is super fun to use with sex toys.
The best way to really find out which works best for you is to go into an adult shop and ask to test the arousal products.
No, you don't have to put them on your clit in store, that would be illegal and unhygienic, what you do is take a drop (the store worker will pop it on a paddlepop stick or similar for you) and you rub it onto the inside of your bottom lip. The membrane of the inner lips is very similar to the membrane of the clitoris and surrounding areas so the sensation you feel will be a pretty good indication of how it will feel in other areas. Give it up to 15 seconds or so to take effect and see what you think.
As for recommendations, they are all fairly similar, but going by personal preference, and the ones I sell a lot of regularly my suggestions would be:
Menthol Based: La Viva Clitoral Arousal or Sliquid Stimulating O Gel.
Herbal Based (no menthol at all): On Arousal, With a special mention to the Chocolate On. The chocolate one is heaps stronger than the original, and has a slightly more pleasant taste. (I don't mind either. The best way to describe it is like a strong chai)
Mixed into Lubricant: Sliquid Organics Natural Stimulating Lubricant, or just your basic Wet Stuff Peppermint can have a nice effect.
Be aware that if you're using an oil-based one, and you use condoms (always use condoms) you really need to make sure it fully soaks in before the latex makes any contact because oil can degrade and break condoms.
I hope this helps! Let me know what you end up trying, and if it worked for you!