If you’re sexually active, lubricant should be a staple among your sex accessories. Whether you’re a guy or a gal, whether you’re having sex with a man or a woman or even just yourself and a toy, using lube will intensify and enhance sensations, help prolong penetration and make intercourse more pleasurable by preventing vaginal dryness, and make safer sex safer by reducing the chances that a condom will break. Even though women produce natural lubricant when they’re aroused, it isn’t always enough or as long lasting as both partners may need for pleasurable sex. With condoms, especially, lube works better than natural juices alone, and putting a drop of lube inside the condom produces a better experience for men, too.
Let’s talk about the types of lube, and when to use each kind. Generally speaking, there are 3 types – water based, silicone based and oil based lubes. With a latex condom, it is only safe to use water based or silicone lubes. Oil degrades all latex safer-sex products: condoms, dams, gloves, you name it.
Water based lube has some advantages over silicone. It flushes out of and off the body most easily, it’s more widely available, it comes in flavored and warming variations, and it’s less expensive than silicone. Water based lubes can be used with silicone toys – unlike silicone ones. Silicone lubes dissolve the surface of silicone toys – so you have to be careful. Don’t mix silicone with silicone.
Now, the downside of water based lubes. They can’t be used for sex in bathtubs, hot tubs, or swimming pools, since they dissolve or disperse in water. Some contain glycerin and other chemicals believed to irritate or cause yeast infections for women. They tend to dry up quickly, too – so you have to add more, or add water to them when they get sticky. The textures vary and not all of them are as pleasing or as natural feeling as others.
Ok…how about silicone lubricants. Do they have any advantages over water based? They feel and function very much like the body’s natural lubrication. They contain no water, so they don’t dry up. Instead of absorbing into the skin they stay on the surface, providing better glide. They last longer and you need to use less – which is good because too much lube can reduce sensation.
But there are still a few downsides. Since they don’t absorb fully into the skin, they require soap and water to come off completely – and they can stain your sheets. They tend to be more expensive – but since you use less that may cancel out the expense. The most important downside for safe sex is that not all silicone lubricants are certified latex safe so you have to check the labels. Personally, I like silicone lubes…I find that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. But that’s a very personal preference and you should try a variety of products before you settle on your own favorites.
Now, let’s move on to oil based lubes. Oil breaks down latex, so it can’t be used with latex condoms – but it can be used with polyurethane condoms. Some oil based lubes leave a coating on the vagina or rectum that can lead to infections. The exceptions are products developed for women made from plant oils. While not latex safe, they don’t irritate vaginal tissues. To the contrary, many women actually prefer oil-based lubricants like Zestra, which is an excellent, clinically proven sensation enhancer made of botanical oils. There’s also Elegance Woman’s Lubricant, made from organic soybean, safflower and grapeseed oils.
Since I mentioned polyurethane condoms, let’s go over a few facts about those. They provide similar rates of pregnancy prevention as latex condoms as well as similar protection against sexually transmitted infections. They’re thinner, but, because they’re less stretchy, they’re more prone to break if you don’t use enough lube. They can be used with all 3 types.
Now let’s switch gears just a little and talk about lubes made for anal sex. These are designed to be thicker and more gel-like to enhance the anal experience. One caution, however – some are made with benzocaine or other numbing agents, so read labels and avoid those. Part of safer sex is being able to feel the action and stop if something hurts or seems off. Numbing any body part is unwise and unsafe.
One other point to keep in mind – some ingredients in lube can cause allergic reactions, so check labels for preservatives you might be sensitive to. To be on the safe side, before you use a new lube try a spot test on your wrist or the inside of your elbow. Some lubes contain the spermicide nonoxynol-9 which can be irritating or cause an allergic reaction that looks like little sores and can make the transmission of HIV more likely.
Finally, if you want to get pregnant, you should know that there is a bit of controversy over whether lubricant can harm sperm or inhibit sperm motility. Obviously, to use it containing spermicide would make anyone a candidate for the Darwin awards. But if you’re having trouble conceiving, some physicians suggest putting lube on the shaft of the penis only, or using a lube that is made to be sperm friendly – like PreSeed – which mimics the pH of natural body secretions and keeps sperm alive and swimming.