A guide to sexual lubricants

What’s lube? What’s lubrication? You know those little packages of lubricant passed around with free condoms and in the penis piñatas at bachelorette parties? The ones that taste banana or strawberries? Yeah, those ones.

They can make certain, um, sexual acts more tasty and provide some slip for tight squeezes, but they’re just the beginning when it comes to the pleasures that extra lubrication can provide.

When selecting your new favorite lubricant there are several factors to consider. Will the lube be used for oral sex? Intercourse? Anal? Or simply for tactile pleasure? How long do you want it to last? How concerned are you with how easy it is to clean? Do you or your partner have any sensitivities or are prone to yeast infections? Are you looking for something cooling, stimulating or arousing? Having a handle on what you’ll be using the lube for specifically can help you navigate the ever-expanding world of amazing sexual lubricants.

General lube smarts

  • If you have sensitive skin or are prone to infection, don’t use any lube containing glycerin. This is the most common irritant in women and can sometimes cause yeast infections, as the sweet base substance creates a sugar-like reaction in the body, helping ferment yeast.
  • The upside to glycerin is that it is the main contributor in all those tasty lubes that make oral sex a bit yummier. There have been very few reports of irritation in men, so they’re especially safe and fun in those situations.
  • Lubes come in all forms of consistency. The thinner lubes are most excellent for increasing sensation throughout the entire body and for lightly lubricating condoms before intercourse. For anal sex, where no natural lubrication is created by the body, a much thicker lube is recommended. Always use more than you think you need, as it both adds an excellent amount of cushion but can wear away easily.
  • Natural oil lubes break down the latex in condoms—so keep your stashes separate and don’t take the risk.
  • Most stores sell little sample sizes of lube, especially if the brand is a bit pricier. Doing some personal home-testing with your partner is the best way to find out which one will send you completely over the edge.
  • Oil and silicone based lubes can stain and require soap to clean off the body. For this reason they’re great for extended play, but just be sure to wash sheets immediately to avoid embarrassing spots for your next guest to find… or a visiting relative… that’d be bad…

Water-based lubricants

The upside: they are completely safe to use with condoms, as they don’t induce breakage or interact with spermicide. They also wipe off easily, wash away with a bit of water and don’t leave a slippery residue like oil-based lubes. Because the water content in them determines their consistency, they can be found in thin or very thick forms, and if they dry out while on the body (which they will) you don’t necessarily need to apply more: just drip some water on the lubricated body part and the lube will reconstitute itself… which could be a tantalizing act in it’s own right. Once you’ve had it on for a while and have been doing the nasty for a bit, the drying-out sensation may even result in heightened sensitivity—which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the bodies in motion.

The flipside: water-based lubes tend to get sticky when they dry, and can dry out pretty quickly. For this reason, they’re best used for intercourse in addition to condoms. When a very thick lube is chosen, they’re great for anal sex as they provide a natural, comforting base for penetration. Another thing to pout about: many of these lubes contain glycerin, which can irritate some women, especially those prone to yeast infections. So be sure to clean up when you’re done with the act, and to choose a lube with as few added ingredients as possible.

Most major lube companies now provide a water-based formula amongst their products, keeping consistent with the modern trend for applying things to the body in their most natural form.

Petroleum- and natural-oil based lubricants

The upside: Oil-based lubricants provide that oh-so-delicious slippery feeling that’s great for any situation when fingers and hands are used or bodies are rubbed up against each other. They don’t dry out like water-based lubes, so they can be used for very long periods of time when you’re stroking or rubbing delicate body parts, protecting those tissues from scratching and irritation. They’re also excellent to soothe sensitive lady parts after the act: having a very natural, vitamin E based lubricant on hand solely for this purpose can be a very smart idea.

The flipside: oil-based lubes is that they can break down the latex in condoms, causing breakage, so be careful not to use oil-based products if condoms are your primary form of birth control. They’re also only washed away with soap and water, so if you get some on your sheets they may stain if left too long.

A debate in the health/sex world about natural and petroleum oil lubricants is if they contribute to irritation and infection in women. The argument is pretty stacked on both sides, mostly from personal experience and with neither being particularly scientifically backed up. I mean, petroleum jelly was once the preferred product for diaper rash, so it can’t be that invasive, right? The conclusion seems to go back to the glycerin inclusion, firming up once again that the most simple and natural lubricants that don’t contain glycerin are the safest way to go.

Silicone-based lubricants

The upside: These are highly considered the Queen (or King, I guess you could say) of the lubrication world. Like water-based lubes, they don’t break down latex and therefore are safe for intercourse with condoms. They last longer than water-based ones and are 100% waterproof, so they’re an excellent choice when used in a shower, hot tub or any other submerged place of naughtiness. They’re also extremely gentle, so they won’t cause infections or irritation in sensitive pink parts.

The flipside: Because of the whole 100% waterproof thing, they’re harder to clean and may stain clothing and sheets (some brands specifically tout being able to wash off easily, though). Also, if completely unflavored, they have a chemically taste and smell, so they’re better for tactile rather than oral use.

Silicone lubes are sometimes more expensive than traditional water or oil based lubes and are more commonly found in sex shops and specialty stores rather than at the local pharmacy. However, they last a lot longer than other types of lubes, which may expire if left too long, becoming breeding grounds for bacteria.