Lubricant can make good sex great by reducing friction and facilitating penetration of all kinds. Healthy lubrication makes vaginal penetration more comfortable and effortless, oral sex a more luscious experience for both partners, and its application is crucial for safe anal sex. Lubricant can even be an aid when it comes to contraceptives - condoms are proven more effective when used with lubrication (as long as it’s not oil-based!). Whether shared or solo, lubricants are a sensual (and functional) tool for exploring sexuality.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” Before you get slippery, there are some important things to know about lube. Get ready for a crash course on compatibility, composition, and a couple pro tips.
What are the differences between water-based lube, silicone-based lube, flavored lubes, and oil-based lubes? Can they all be used with condoms, sex toys?
There are four different bases for lubricants: Oil, Silicone Water and Hybrid (otherwise known as combination lubricants). Any of these lubricants could be flavored or unflavored, those are just additives. Each lubricant base has pros and cons.
- Pro: Long lasting
- Pro: Dual use as a sensual massage oil
- Con: Degrade latex and polyisoprene and thus are not considered condom compatible
- Con: Difficult to clean up, may stain sheets
- Pro: Condom compatible
- Pro: Long lasting
- Con: Not compatible with silicone sex toys (though this can be avoided by using a condom on the toy!)
- Con: Silicone does not wash off with soap and water, rather is sloughs off slowly which can impede natural vaginal immunity
- Pro: Safe with latex & toys
- Pro: Iso osmotic products are physician recommended as most compatible with healthy vaginal eco-system
- Pro: Does not make a mess although may need more than a single application
- Con: Commonly available heavily concentrated petrochemical lubes (ie. Propylene glycol) can create toxic vaginal conditions
Hybrid lubricants (water based with added silicone)
- Pro: Slick and long lasting like silicone based lubricants
- Pro: Condom and toy compatible like water based lubricants
- Con: Depending on the brand, added silicone content may vary — check label to be sure the lubricant is actually toy/condom compatible before use
- Con: New in the industry, there is less readily available information on them at this time
How do I choose the right lube?
Ok, so you know what kind of base you want. Now how do you pick the right brand? As it turns out, a lot of well known commercial lubricants are made in a base of heavily concentrated petrochemicals which can be toxic to a healthy vaginal ecosystem. So how can you know if the lubricant is safe?
Recent studies have shown that one of the most important factors in lubricant safety is iso-osmolar.
Remember osmosis from biology? Osmolality is about the salt balance or in other words, the flow of water between the cells. When the chemicals in the lube are too dense compared to the cells of vaginal lining, the water inside the cells is sucked out to balance the pressure. So hyperosmolar lubricants made with a lot of petrochemicals will draw the water out of cells in the mucous membranes of your cells, causing the top layers of the epithelium to slough off. This can create a toxic environment for the protective lactobacilli which is keeping bad bacteria at bay. This can cause a serious imbalance which pushes up your normally low pH and increases your risk of bacterial vaginosis. And also increases your risk for contracting STDs and STIs.
According to the World Health Organization, the osmolarity of lubricants should not exceed 380 mOsm/kg, and yet most commercial lubricants ring in at 2000-6000 mOsm/kg! That’s way denser than bodily fluids.
So, how do you pick a safe lube?
Look at the labels on the lubricants you purchase and seek out products made with natural ingredients instead of petrochemicals. Also most lubricants with any kind of “warming” sensation are generally hyper osmolar. Avoid lubricants with glycerin as the primary ingredient because it is associated with yeast infections. Try to find something that is organic and natural for the most sensitive tissue in your body.
Here's another helpful guide for selecting a lubricant based on osmolality from Smitten Kitten.
But I've heard... (lubricant myth busting):
“Vaginal dryness just means you’re not turned on enough”
Vaginal dryness is one of the most common reasons women have pain with sex – many factors can cause dryness, such as stress, alcohol, many types of medications, and common hormonal changes (like during or after menstruation!). Also, the idea that arousal can be measured by “wetness” makes some people uncomfortable with using lube. While foreplay can often ease this situation, there are many times when “natural lubrication” isn’t always enough. Knowing that a good lubricant will prevent painful sex is a great reason to start experimenting to see how lovemaking can be more both longer and more pleasurable for both partners. Don’t let any stigma keep you back from experiencing pleasurable sex!
“Lube isn’t necessary”
Lube makes penetration better for everyone. It allows you to try more positions and extend the comfort of the sensitive tissue for less friction and more glide. And that extra glide can actually make it easier to orgasm. For anal sex it’s a must have, because there is no natural moisture there and tearing rectal tissue is super painful for a long while.
“Just use coconut oil”
Coconut Oil makes a decent lubricant because it is cheap and accessible, however, because it is oil-based it is not compatible with latex condoms and it can be a struggle to clean up. Additionally, it is more dense than say, aloe, and can clog pores as well as disrupt the delicate pH balance of vaginas.
“Saliva is the only lubricant I need”
Let’s be real, the most commonly used lubricant is spit. Aside from being readily available and free, there are not a lot of good reasons to keep using saliva during sex. For one, it dries up incredibly fast, can cause yeast infections in vaginas, may pass sexually transmitted infections, and last but not least, could be a turn off for some people. Check with your partner and see if they’re comfortable before using spit.
The right lube can solves problems you might not even know you have. Everyone’s body and needs are different, so experiment and find the lube that works best for you! Try to prioritize healthy ingredients in your wellness products because your body deserves the best! Lastly, when it comes to great sex - more is better. Use your preferred lubricant liberally!
This basic is powered by our fabulous partner, Good Clean Love and their Make It Good Initiative. Make It Good empowers young adults to engage in lively, informed sex positive conversations. Their mission is to make it easier and more enjoyable to create meaningful peer-to-peer dialogue about the issues of modern, digital age sexuality. Want to bring Make It Good workshops and conversations to your campus? Learn more about our collaboration!