Personal Lubricants: Applications and Compatibilities
Lubes are incredibly versatile and can increase the pleasure in all kinds of sex play (including penetrative and non-penetrative sex and masturbation). They can and are usually utilized to offset dryness or lack of natural lubrication. The use of lubricants can also help make condoms feel more pleasurable and can prevent condoms tearing due to friction or heat (as long as the condom and lube are compatible, see below).
There are many types of lubricants available, so it can be daunting to know which is the right one to choose. This guide will assist you in choosing the right type of lube for the right activity and help reduce the risk of discomfort or health issues.
Generally speaking, there are three main types of lube based on the main ingredient:
Water Based Lubricants
Water based are the most versatile type of lubricants. They are compatible with all toys, condoms and diaphragms. They also tend to be the best choice for sensitive skin and are easy to clean up. The one down side to water-based lubes is that they tend to dry up a little bit faster than other lubricants, so you may have to reapply them frequently or occasionally. Some water-based lubes may also contain harmful parabens or petro-chemicals and glycerin. On the other hand some contain additives that can help moisturize your delicate mucus membranes (vagina/anus), so make sure to always check the ingredients. (As a side note: Aloe based lubes fall into this category.)
Pros: Compatible with everything
Easy clean up
Usually gentle on sensitive skin
Can be soothing and moisturizing (such as in aloe-based)
Cons: Might have to reapply often
Washes away easily
Can contain harmful chemicals and additives
Shop our water based lubricants here.
Silicone Based Lubricants
Silicone based lubes are thicker and more viscous than water-based and are longest lasting of the three types. That is why they tend to be the best option for anal play: they are very slippery and do not need to be reapplied frequently. Silicone lubricants also tend to be the best options for people with allergy issues, and usually cause the least issues with penetrative sex. Silicone based lubes are compatible with latex condoms, but can cause degradation in some silicone toys (Check out the toy manufacturer to find out if your toy is compatible with silicone lube). This type of lubricant can be tricky to clean sometimes, but it does work well for shower, bath, and pool play as it is reactivated by water.
Great for water play
Kind of hypoallergenic (unless you have a silicone allergy)
Great for anal play
Can be used with most toys and condoms
Cons: Can be a bit harder to clean up
Can degrade or absorb into some toys
Oil Based Lubricants
While oil-based lubes (such as Vaseline, Baby Oil, Coconut Oil, and various “Butters”) are often thicker than the others on this list and can have a nice texture, they are fairly limited in their applications. Oil based lubes work well for manual sex or masturbation with a penis, and due to the hydrophobic qualities lend themselves well to shower play. But because oil-based lubes are hydrophobic they can be a bit harder to clean up. These lubricants are not compatible with most condoms and they can degrade silicones and plastics. As a result, you risk tears in condoms and damage to toys when using the two together. When used vaginally or in the anus oil-based lubes can potentially cause serious infections since they are sticky: they like to linger and bacteria likes to attach to them. So, if you have a penis, use oil-based lubes with caution, otherwise avoid.
Good for water play
Cons: Very hard to clean up
Can cause infections
Can degrade toys and condoms
Should never be used internally
I know I said there were only three main types of lube (and I was technically right!), but there is a fourth option that should be mentioned. I say fourth, but it’s really a mix between two of the main three: water and silicone-based. Hybrid lubes are primarily water based but have some silicone added. They offer the versatility of water-based lubes (e.g. they clean up easier than traditional silicone lubricants), but are slightly longer lasting and don’t damage silicone toys as easily. They tend to be thicker than water-based, and thinner than silicone-based, so they are a nice middle-of-the-road lubricant between the two.
Pros: A nice halfway point between water and silicone
Fairly easy clean up
Great for anal play
Great for water play
Compatible with most toys
Cons: Can degrade some toys
Other Ingredients and Properties to watch out for
Warming and Cooling Properties
These components in lubes can increase the overall stimulation during play, but can also be problematic if you are sensitive or allergic to them. If you like to experiment with these types, start by putting a small amount on your wrist for a few minutes to see if you have any kind of reaction. This will also give you an idea of how intense the warming/cooling is, and let you know how much or how little you should use in the heat of the moment. (pun absolutely intended)
Flavored lubricants can be fun and come in a wide variety of flavors. They are often marketed as a way to make fellatio more fun and feel like less of a chore. They can also be used vaginally or for cunnilingus, however caution is advised. This is a great time to look at that ingredient list because some flavored lubes often contain sugar or glycerin and so can cause infections (see below).
Some lubes contain ingredients that can cause irritations or health concerns if you are sensitive to them, particularly with penetrative sex. Many people can use these lubricants without issues or problems, but if you experience chafing, irritation, pain, or allergic reactions, you may need to change what kind of lubricant or brand you are using. The problematic ingredients to look out for are (in no particular order):
This ingredient is a humectant (i.e. it helps retain moisture) and a preservative, so it can show up in many lubes. This ingredient lubricates by sapping water from the surrounding tissues and so can result in the mucus membranes in the anus and vagina becoming dry and irritated. This in turn can lead chafing, pain, and micro-tears which can then lead to infection and other health issues.
Glycerin is also humectant so lubes with this ingredient can result in irritations and micro tears (as above). This additive is often included in flavored or warming lubricants. It is a metabolic by product of sugar, so it can provide a good environment for microbes such as bacteria and mold. As a result, it can cause vaginal infections. If you are susceptible to yeast infections, it is best to avoid lubricants that contain glycerin for vaginal penetrative sex or toys.
This ingredient is anti-bacterial. While that sounds great, this additive is caustic and can cause irritations or chemical burns. If you have a sensitive vagina or problems with pH balance, it’s best to stay away from lubes that contain chlorhexidine gluconate.
Nonoxynol-9 is a component of spermicides, and a lot of condoms come pre-lubricated with a spermicidal lube. This ingredient can kill the bacteria in the vagina, potentially causing bacterial vaginosis and irritation and inflammation. Most people with vaginas do not have issues with this additive, but problems can arise if you are sensitive to it.
Petroleum or petroleum-based ingredients
As mentioned above in the oil-based lube section, these ingredients can cause infections and can alter the pH of the vagina.
Parabens are preservatives sometimes found in lubricants and cosmetics. The FDA is still investigating exactly how Parabens affect the human body, but there are indicators that they act like the estrogen hormone and can increase the chance of breast cancers. As a result, a lot of people try to stay away from personal care products that include this ingredient.
Tips for beginners
Try new lubes or new types on less sensitive areas of skin first (like your wrist) and see how your skin reacts to it. If you are in a brick-and-mortar sex shop, there are usually testers available. Or you can ask an associate.
Lubes are chemically stable, but have a shelf life, similar to lotions or massage oils. When possible, store them so that they are not exposed to direct sun light and try to keep them in cool environments.
Lubricants can make sex with condoms more pleasurable and reduce chafing or friction.
For oral, vaginal and manual play start with a small amount and add more as needed.
For anal play, be generous (especially if you are new to it).
Here is a handy-dandy chart for lube compatibility:
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