Disclaimer: This information isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You shouldn’t rely on this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
If you are having sex, be it vaginal or anal, it’s always a good idea to have some lubricant around. Lubes help to boost our body’s natural lubrication process, providing less friction and more wetness during sex. It’s pretty much essential for anal sex, as your anus doesn’t self-lubricate the way a vagina does. It’s also super useful for masturbation, whether you’ve got a penis or a vagina, because it helps prevent chafing and irritation. In other words? Lube is good, and you should be using it.
Why don’t more people reach for a bottle when having sex, whether it’s with themselves or with a partner? The answer is simple—lube has a reputation for only being useful when it comes to vaginal dryness. That rep isn’t unwarranted, as vaginal dryness likely accounts for the majority of reasons why folks choose to use lubricant. In a study of almost 2500 women, 70 percent reported that lube made sex more enjoyable. (1) And vaginal dryness doesn’t always have to do with whether or not a woman is turned on or not. It can happen for a myriad of reasons. Side effects of certain medications can cause dryness, as well as breastfeeding, cigarette smoking, menopause, childbirth, and certain immune disorders. (2)
But since lubricant helps decrease friction, it could also help decrease the transmission of certain STIs. That same study where 70 percent of women said lube made sex more pleasurable also found that it can reduce the likelihood of vaginal tearing. Tearing can increase the likelihood of transmission of HIV and other STIs, so lube can inadvertently reduce that transmission. (1)
So we’ve established that lube can be a very helpful part of your sexual health. But that’s not the end of the story. There are a handful of different lubricants on the market, and different lubes are good for different things. There are four types that are typically seen on the market — water-based, silicone-based, oil-based, and natural lubricants. Some lubes are hybrids of these types, too. Let’s break them down to help you figure out which is best for you.
These lubricants are the most versatile of all of the lubricants. Since they’re water-based, they tend to be less irritating to your skin. They’re also useful for every type of sex you can possibly imagine — from penetrative sex to maturbation to anal sex. Water-based lubes are also safe to use on silicone sex toys. (More on that in a minute.) Water-based lubes don’t stain your sheets like oils and silicones might, making them a lot cleaner overall.
But these kinds of lubricants also come with some downsides. They aren’t suitable for water-based play, as they just tend to wash off in the shower. Water-based lubes also tend to evaporate and get sticky quickly and need to be reapplied. This is fine if you’re just going for a quickie, but can be a pain if you’re looking for a lube that can go the distance. If that sounds more like what you’re looking for, then you’ll want to find a lube that stands the test of time a bit better.
Silicone wins out where water falls flat. It doesn’t wash away as easily as water-based lubes do, making it great for shower or tub play. It also doesn’t get sticky, and is great for both latex and non-latex condoms. It’s slippery and long-lasting, so it’s great for those who tend to get skin irritation from chafing. But that long-lasting ability does come with a downside. Since it sticks so well, it can be a pain to wipe off, and usually requires a shower to wick away any residual tackiness. It can also stain your sheets, so you might want to toss a towel down.
These types of lubricants can also wreak havoc on your silicone-based toys. When silicone mixes with silicone, it can break down the material over time. When the rubber degrades, they become less sanitary, as bacteria can find its way into little tears and hide out. But if your toys are made from other things, like glass, steel, or hard plastic, then silicone lube is fine to use.
If you’re fluid-bonded with your partner, meaning you have unprotected sex and have both been tested, then you might love oil-based lubricants. They last longer than water-based options, and seriously cut down on friction. CBD and THC lubricants also tend to be oil-based, as these compounds easily suspend in oil. Oils are also great for masturbation and sexy massages, making them super versatile.
But there are a lot of “don’ts” when it comes to oil-based lubes. They can’t be used with latex condoms, since they can break down the latex, causing the condom to break. Certain non-latex condoms can also tear when using oil-based lubes. These types of lubricants are also no good with silicone, meaning everything from your silicone sex toys to your silicone diaphgragm can be broken down when using oil based lubes. Finally, these lubricants tend to stain and are very difficult to remove. So they’re great for marathon sack sessions, but pretty bad when it comes to removal.
Lately, there has been an uptick in natural lubes — although the term “natural” isn’t exactly regulated by the FDA when it comes to these formulas. These lubricants are typically free of parabens, scents, and other artificial ingredients. They contain ingredients like aloe, which can actually be helpful if you tend to get irritation in and around your vagina during sex. But aside from that, they don’t differ from the above lubricants all that much. So the same rules apply.
What To Avoid
There are tons of different types of lubricants on the market, from warming lubes to flavored lubes. Most of the time, these options are safe. But it’s a good idea to peruse the ingredients list for possible irritants like glycerin/sugar or petroleum, as these can cause inflammation. If your skin is typically sensitive to fragrances and other additives, it’s a good idea to avoid them in your vagina, too.
Spermicides are typically safe to use if they’re in a lube, especially because they’re mostly effective when used with a barrier method like a condom. That said, your doctor might discourage you to use spermicide if:
You have HIV or AIDS, or are at a high risk of contracting HIV
You’re susceptible to urinary tract infections
You’re at high-risk of pregnancy (based on age and frequency of intercourse)
You’re not likely to use spermicide with a barrier method. (3)
Lubricants can be a useful part of your sex life, and finding one that works for you typically comes down to trial and error. But once you do, you’re in for a much more pleasurable sexual experience.
1. Science Daily. Studies About Why Men And Women Use Lubricants During Sex. Access Oct 2. View Resource.
2. Healthline. What Causes Vaginal Dryness? Accessed Oct 2. View resource.