Personal Lubricants: A Beginner’s Guide To Safe (And Pleasurable) Lubrication
Personal Lubricants: A Beginner’s Guide To Safe (And Pleasurable) Lubrication
Ah, lube—the key to smooth, comfortable, pleasurable sex. According to the Simmons National Consumer Survey (NHCS), more than 48 million Americans used personal lubricants in 2016, and the number’s rising.
But despite the widespread use of lubrication, there’s a lot of misinformation about what lubricants do (and what they don’t do). Before you buy a lubricant, you should know what you’re getting into, and this guide should help you understand the basics. If you still need more help after reading this, browse through our Lube 101 articles or just contact us directly.
Do I Need to Use Lubricant?
Lube makes all sexual activity more fun. If you want to increase your pleasure, lube is for you.
Women’s bodies produce natural lubrication when they get aroused, but the amount can vary widely. Factors like menopause, illness, diet and even simple stress can limit the body’s production of vaginal lubricant.
More importantly, lube improves sex even if there’s no shortage of natural lubrication. Despite a common misconception, even women who have no issues with self lubrication will benefit greatly from adding additional lube. Let us reiterate that, even if you or your partner have ample amounts of natural lubrication you will still benefit greatly by using a personal lubricant during sex.
Personal lubricants introduce thrilling new sensations into your sex life, solo or in concert. Try it!
What Do Personal Lubricants Do, Exactly?
To put it simply, lubricants enhance sexual activities by limiting friction. They provide a smooth “liquid” barrier between body parts, which will improve masturbation, vaginal and anal sex dramatically. Any time body parts rub against one another it will cause uncomfortable friction which should be reduced to increase pleasure.
Lubricants can also moisturize and even prevent sensitive skin from becoming irritated. Some lubes have additives that can actually add new intimate pleasureful sensations (we’ll get to those in a minute). Regardless of your gender or sexual preferences, there’s always a place for lube in your sexual toolkit.
Three Different Types of Lubricant Bases (And One Hybrid)
The biggest and most important difference between lubricants is the base ingredient—the main ingredient used to provide the lubrication. There are three main types of lubricant bases (although manufacturers continue to innovate—expect more base ingredients, like aloe, to join the list soon).
Water-Based Lubricants – This is the most common type of lubricant, both for their lower cost and their natural feel—water-based lube is as close as you can get to the body’s natural lubrication. Plus, they’re completely safe to use with all types of latex, condoms, and adult toys.
Since they’re water-based, these lubes are water soluble and wash off easily. Unfortunately, that also means that they tend to dry up quicker than silicone or oil based lubes, but some formulas last longer than others.
Quick tip: To make your water based lube last longer simply apply water or spit to the lubricant as it is drying out. This will reactive the lubricant and keep it slick for as long as you need.
Silicone Lubricants – Silicone-based is the second-most popular type of personal lubricant. Silicone lube is not water soluble, so your body cannot absorb it like it would a water-based lubricant. This makes silicone lube last a VERY long time, and is a major reason why it is the recommended lubricant for anal sex. Lubricant made from silicone tends to be EXTREMELY slippery so please use extreme caution and make sure to clean all spills right away.
As an added bonus, silicone is waterproof. Water won’t wash silicone lube away. That can be advantageous if you’re getting frisky in the tub or shower.
A silicone-based lube doesn’t ever really dry out during normal use, and it leaves your skin feeling wonderfully smooth. Silicone lubricant is often used as a skin and hair moisturizer so don’t be afraid to apply where needed. These lubes are compatible with latex condoms. Because silicone is chemically inert, it’s hypoallergenic. You will find that many silicone lubricants only have two or three ingredients.
Expect to pay a little more for a silicone lube—they’re often double the price of their water-based counterparts. Beyond that, there are two main disadvantages of silicone lubricants. They can stain certain fabrics, for one thing. Also, you shouldn’t use silicone lubes with silicone sex toys. Thanks to the molecular interaction of different types of silicone, the liquid silicone degrades the solid silicone toy.
You can wash off silicone with soap and water, but you’ll need plenty of soap; water alone won’t do the trick.
Oil-Based Lubricants – Lubricants with an oil base are most commonly used for masturbation; many sex experts discourage oil-based lubes for penetrative sex, since they can leave a coating that increases the chances of infections. Oil cannot be absorbed by your body which can cause the lube to sit idle inside of you for extended periods of time, not necessarily a good thing.
Like silicone lubricants, oil-based lubricants aren’t water soluble, so you need soap to wash them away. They can stain some fabrics, and they will degrade latex condoms making them useless. That said, oil lubes are safe to use with polyurethane condoms.
The main advantage of an oil-based lube is its staying power. These lubricants last for an exceptionally long time.
Hybrid Lubes – This is a fairly new category of lubrication. Hybrid silicone-water lubricants offer the feel of silicone with the toy-friendly features of water-based lubricants. If anything, hybrid lubes create an even creamier glide than pure silicone-based lubricants.
Silicone-water hybrid lubes last a long time, and they don’t stain most fabrics. They also tend to be less expensive than pure silicone lubricants. Win-win!
Which Personal Lubricant Should You Choose?
If you’re trying to find the “best” lube, know this: it doesn’t really exist. The answer is different for just about every person, but here are a few questions to ask yourself when choosing a personal lubricant:
How will I use this?
This is the first and most important question: Will you use this lube for masturbation, anal sex, vaginal sex, or oral sex? Will you use a condom or dental dam? What about toys?
A bit of planning will go a long way. For instance, silicone lubes are often preferable for anal sex, since they last longer and generally have a thicker consistency than water-based lubricants (we should note that there are a few thicker water-based formulas, so this is more of a general guideline than a rule). Silicone is also great for vaginal intercourse, although some people prefer the feel of water-based products.
However, silicone lubes aren’t great for many toys. To be safe, a good rule of thumb is to never use silicone lubricant with soft sex toys, whether they’re made with silicone, jelly, rubber, or PVC. Water-based lubricants work well with all toys, but tend to dry out over time. Oil-based lubricants are ideal for masturbation, but not recommended for vaginal sex.
You get the idea. Once you understand the advantages of the three main types of lube, you should have a pretty good idea of what you’ll need, but really think about how you’re going to use the product before you click “buy.”
Will this be safe for my body?
If you’re buying a lubricant for vaginal use, you should definitely avoid oil-based lubes, since some formulas can increase the chances of yeast infections by upsetting your vaginal flora (the bacteria and other microbes that live in a healthy vagina). Oil-based lubricants will also damage latex condoms, so to reiterate, if you’re practicing safe sex, avoid oil-based lube. If you do plan on using a condom with an oil-based lube, make sure that condom made of polyurethane, not latex.
Silicone and water-based lubricants are generally considered very safe, although some people may be sensitive to ingredients like propylene glycol. Some publications have also suggested that a class of antimicrobial chemicals called parabens could affect hormone production; while there’s currently no scientific evidence to support that assertion, paraben-free lubricants are quite common. If you have allergies, you’ll also want to check the labels of lubes with herbal ingredients. Many lubricant manufacturers now offer organic lubricants as well as all natural lubes made for the more health conscious consumers. Natural lubricants tend to dry out quicker than most due to the lack of preservatives and other synthetic ingredients. Many health conscious consumers are also seeking out glycerin free lubricants as some believe that glycerin can turn into a sugar inside the female body thus potentially causing yeast infections. There are no long term studies proving this but many believe it is better to be safe than sorry.
No matter what formula you choose, always be safe and buy your lubricants from a reputable supplier. If you notice irritation or other adverse effects after using a certain lube, discontinue use immediately.
Am I interested in a “special” lubricant formula?
Specialty lubes increase stimulation in lots of ways. If you can dream it, there’s probably a lube that can do it. Edible lubes are available in a stunning array of flavors. There are warming lubes, cooling lubes, and tingling lubes. There are even lubes that can help delay ejaculation.
These specialty lubricants produce their effects with special ingredients. For instance, warming and cooling lubricants offer a different type of sexual experience by using capsaicin, menthol, and other additives. Some lubricants have herbal additives and vitamins for a libido-boosting effect (To be determined if these truly boost libidos)
If you decide to try a lubricant with added sensations, always remember to test it on your skin first before jumping right into sex. Experts recommend testing a small amount of lubricant on the inner part of your wrist; that’s a sensitive area that mimics the reactions you may have on your genitals.
If you’re especially susceptible to yeast infections or you’re trying to conceive, pH-neutral lubricants are ideal. Some manufacturers even make sperm-friendly lubricants to increase your odds of conception, if that’s your goal.
For men with a hair trigger, numbing lubricants can help prolong sex (although they’re generally not recommended for anal penetration, since they can increase the chances of an injury by blocking pain). There’s a pretty huge world of lubricants, so once you know the basics, dive in—metaphorically, of course. The more popular ingredients used for numbing lubricants include lidocaine and benzocaine, both over the counter topical anesthetics commonly used at the dentist.
Here’s the bottom line: No lubricant is 100 percent perfect for everyone. Experimentation is part of the fun, so try out different types of lubricant from different brands. See what you like. As long as you know the lube’s ingredients and you use it as directed, there’s really not much that can go wrong.