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If you’re looking for the perfect lubricant for her…or for him, or for you, or for your toys…look no further. This guide will help you as you explore your perfect glide.
What is Lube?
Lubricant, or lube as it’s most commonly called, is a fluid used to make all types of sex more enjoyable. People use it for solo sex, for oral sex, for vaginal sex, for sex with toys, and it’s basically a necessity for anal sex. Lube can be flavored, have added ingredients for “increased pleasure” (more on this later, these should generally be avoided), and it comes in a variety of types.
Why you should be using lube
We all know intuitively that lubricants make machines run smoothly. Maybe you’ve added oil to your bike chain, maybe you’ve put oil on your squeaking door hinge, maybe you’ve gotten oil on your hands from tinkering with something under the roof of your car…machines need oil! Think of your body as a machine and lube as WD-40 for your sex parts.
There are reasons to use lube no matter who you are, who you’re having sex with, how you’re having sex, and at what age you’re having it at. So really, there is no sexual situation that exists for which you shouldn’t be using lube. Yet lube seems to have lost its place among the list of items that people have in their sex drawers.
If you’re thinking about having sex, you should be thinking about lube and making sure you have some by your bed (or wherever you’re having sex).
Types of Lube
All lubes are not created equal. In fact, there are 4 different types of lube that you can choose from, each with their own set of pros and cons. Let’s break it down.
Water Based Lubricant: This is likely the type of lube that pops into your head when you hear the word “lube”. It’s the most common, most widely available and easily accessible (read: available at all drugstores), and usually the least expensive. It feels a lot like the body’s natural lubrication and it’s safe to use with condoms and sex toys. This is an important note because not all lubes are safe to use with these items. What’s the downside? Because water is a primary ingredient in this type of lubricant, it’s the fastest to dry. This means that you’ll potentially need to reapply it more often than other types of lube. With water-based lubes, you’ll also want to be weary of the ingredients list. They usually have more ingredients that can be irritating to those sensitive sex parts they’re coming in contact with.
Silicone Based Lubricant: If silicone lube had it’s own hashtag, it would be #cantstopwontstop. Where water based lubes dry up and need to be reapplied, silicone based lubes don’t soak into the skin or evaporate, they just keep going and going! Silicone is also not water soluble, meaning it can actually be used in water if you’re wanting to get frisky, say, in that new hot tub you just got. Largely regarded as hypoallergenic, silicon lube is a good choice if you’ve found that other lubes irritate your genitals. For the most part, silicone lubes should only have about three ingredients. If there’s many more than that, be wary. For super top-notch silicone lube, look for Dimethicone as the first ingredient. It’s a high grade silicone that typically means quality. Finally, silicone lube is safe to use with condoms and dental dams. In fact, pre-lubricated condoms are almost always lubricated with a silicone lube. While silicone lube is a great choice, there is one area where you’d need to be careful with this choice of lube – sex toys. Silicone lube + silicone sex toy = disaster. Without getting too science-y, the silicone from lube will bond with the silicone of the toy creating a sticky, melting mess… and a very ruined toy.
Oil based lubricant: It’s less likely that you’ve come across oil based lubes in a store, but take a look around your kitchen; you may have a lube sitting around you didn’t even know about, especially with our nations current coconut oil obsession. Oil based lubes are exactly what they sound like- they’re made from plant-based oils. While you can certainly buy these at many sex toy stores where the formulas are often a mixture of different natural oils and body-safe fragrances, you need look no further than your kitchen shelf. Some popular oils for sexual use are coconut, almond, grapeseed, and avocado oil. People love that they’re 100% natural, can be 100% organic, and last longer than water based lubes (though not quite as long as silicone). One major downside to oil based lubes is that they cannot be used with latex or polyisoprene condoms which is what most condoms are made from. They CAN however, be used with polyurethane or Nitrile condoms. These are uncommon but available (Trojan Supra Condoms are Polyurethane and FC2™ Receptive Condoms are Nitrile, for example). And for the record, while you technically can use petroleum based products like Vaseline as a lubricant, it’s not advised. They can easily harbor bacteria and cause some nasty infections.
Hybrid lubricants: Why not have a little of both worlds?! Hybrid lubes are a combination of silicone and water based. They have most of the staying power of full silicone lubricants and the compatibility with all sex toys and safer sex barrier methods of water-based lubricants. There’s really no con’s to hybrid lubes besides the fact that they’re harder to find. It’s a newer product on the market and only available online or in some sex toy stores.
No, not like that… Let’s go deeper into the world of lube! We’ve given you the basics so far, but believe it or not, there are actually a few more important qualities of lube to keep in mind. Don’t worry, we’ll make it as simple as possible.
Button up your lab coat and slide on your protective glasses…it’s about to get science-y in here.
Remember in high school when you used pH test strips to learn about the acidity or basicity in science class? Well, we are going to return to the land of chemistry for a hot second here because it may make a difference in your sex life.
Many “solutions” have a pH level. For instance, you likely know that lemon juice is acidic. It’s actually about a 2 on the scale. The pH scale goes from 1-14 where a pH of 0 is extremely acidic, a pH of 7 is neutral and a pH of 14 is extremely basic.
As for our human bodies, just as urine, saliva, and blood all have pH levels so do semen, vaginal fluid and rectal fluid. Lube, as it turns out, also has a pH level. “Aaaaand?” you’re asking… Well, your vagina and rectum are carefully regulated environments with specific pH levels that keep them happy and healthy. Thus, if you change that environment by using a bunch of goo with a pH that’s not compatible with it, you can end up with an angry vagina or rectum. Lube shouldn’t cause a burning or stinging feeling. If that’s been the case for you in the past, it could be that the pH of the lube you’re using is too low or high for you.
You may have to play around to find the lube that works best for your body and what you’re using it for but here is one easy suggestion for the average vagina owner and those wanting lube for anal sex.
Sliquid brand lube: there are many options to choose from with this brand, but all are within the average range of vaginal pH. Sliquid Organics, Sliquid Satin and Sliquid Organics Oceanics are all specific options for anal sex as the pH is slightly higher and in line with average rectal pH.
Now that you’re warmed up to the idea of lube science, we’re going to dive into one last important topic when it comes to water based lubes– osmolality. That crazy sounding word is basically a measure of how the lube interacts with the cells of your sexy parts. Osmolality is a measure of the solutes in a liquid solution. Lubes can be “osmotic” in one of three ways.
Iso-osmotic: the lube plays nicely with the cells of the vagina or rectum. They have a balanced relationship where one doesn’t take from the other. This is your ideal lube situation.
Hypo-osmotic: the lube basically force feeds your cells water making them burst. This is a particular issue if you’re trying to get pregnant because the lube will kill sperm cells in this way.
Hyper-osmotic: the lube is greedy for moisture and sucks it from your cells. This makes the outer layer of cells in your vagina or rectum die and slough off making the mucus lining more vulnerable to infections. Eep!
Terrible, right? It IS terrible and unfortunately there’s not a great way to find out the osmolality of your lube. Even more unfortunate is that most easily available lubes – those on the shelf at your local drug store – are usually hyperosmotic.
For more specific information, a clear guide to osmolality and pH levels, and some handy charts, check out Smitten Kitten’s “Shopping Guide to Lube”
Here are some general rules to get you started:
AVOID Glycerin in your lube, especially if it’s within the first 3 ingredients. Glycerin is a sugar alcohol and is associated with hyperosmotic lubes. Sugars in general are not a good idea for internal play because they not only cause irritation but infection.
AVOID Propylene Glycol as well. Again, especially if it’s within the first 3 ingredients. This is another additive that is linked to hyperosmotic lubes.
DON’T use lubes that sell themselves as “warming” or “heating”. The additional ingredients used to achieve this effect create…you guessed it…hyperosmotic lubes.
DO read your labels, take an extra minute to do more research, buy online if you can’t find what you want in a store and experiment with what works best for you.
REMEMBER pH, osmolality, and questionable ingredients don’t play a role in the pure plant oils we talked about like coconut oil. They also don’t play a role with silicone lubes. If you’re confused and concerned…opt for one of those types of lubes as an easy out for all this science stuff.
That was A LOT of information about something that most people have no idea there is any variation with. Everything you just read can be simmered down to a simple suggestion – in general, try to follow the guidelines that we’ve laid out. Beyond that, play around to find what works best for YOUR body. All bodies are different and finding the lube that works for you may take a few tries.
Stay wet and stay curious!