The shame of often misunderstood sexual problems such as vaginal dryness led women to use cooking oil, olive oil, virgin oil and butter - all in an effort to avoid having to see a professional or buy lubricants publicly.
Chronic illnesses and medications, menopause and other changes to hormones naturally influences the amount of vaginal lubrication a woman produces - but the link is not known widely enough.
“Before and during apartheid, women didn’t fully understand when they didn’t get (vaginally) wet during intercourse and would use harmful substances that only further dried out their vaginas damaging their tissues,” clinical sexologist Dr Marlene Wasserman, popularly known as Dr Eve, said.
Common as it was vaginal dryness also brought shame to men, who felt they were not “man enough” to give pleasure.
Painful sex affects about 20% of women at some point of their lives. Less than 5% of men experience painful sex, but it is most common in gay men.
Fast forward to 2017 and sexual lubricants are a booming industry, with a leading local manufacturer saying that his company sold 120 000 units in a year.
“Lubricants have now become associated with pleasure, comfort and safety. There’s a whole spectrum of society using them from middle to upper class and on our Facebook page, we’ve noticed more black women showing interest in our product,” he stated, asking not to be named.
He said: “Some people just want to have fun and we’ve found that women love flavoured lubricants while men generally prefer the more original types of lubes.
“But there is still a bit of self-stigma. We’ve noticed that our product won’t sell as much if placed at a kiosk counter because people are embarrassed to ask cashiers for them. While if it’s in a normal aisle they sell more.”
Seven years ago, however, a study caused huge problems for the lubricant industry, finding that some sexual lubricants could damage rectal and vaginal tissue, and increase vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
Dr Eve explained that there were different types of lubricants that fell into three categories: oil-based, water-based and silicon.
Oil-based lubricants are known to not be compatible with latex condoms - they literally dissolve condoms, and aren’t indicated where safer sex needs to be practised.
These lubricants are also often difficult to remove, requiring soap and water, and can stain bedding or clothing.
“Water based lubes are often used with sex toys because the toys are usually made from silicon. Plus, they are normally cheaper.
“But I would recommend silicone lubes for women going through menopause and cancer treatments or the extension of lubes, moisturisers,” she said.
However, the sexologist did caution women to buy quality products, saying the average lubricant on the market costs R50, and to check whether it had menthol as an ingredient as it often caused discomfort for many women.
She added: “It’s very important to inform women about their choices and to endorse lubricants as being ‘cool’ because they are made to safely assist and enhance pleasure.”