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Guide to the best sex lubes: How to pick the one for you

From water-based to silicone, the choices of lube are seemingly endless. But which type is the best for you? Here, a sex therapist reveals what you should look for.

person squeezing lube into their partners hand

Have you ever heard the saying “wetter is better” when it comes to sex? Yep, being lubricated (aka “wet”) is pretty key for most kinds of sex. That’s why using some extra lube alongside any natural lubricant your body makes is a surefire way to make sure you’re always wet enough. 

You might be pretty used to leaving your lube to gather dust in your top drawer. After all, when you already produce some natural lubrication, it can feel like an unnecessary addition. But it has serious benefits in the bedroom. Don’t just take our word for it; a 2011 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that women who used lube during sex and masturbation reported higher levels of sexual pleasure and satisfaction compared to those who didn’t. 

“Lubricant is really great for anybody with a vagina, a penis, or an anus. It can even be used on other parts of the body besides the genitals,” says sex therapist Emily Jamea, PhD, Texas, US. “It can be used in solo or partnered sex — the possibilities really are endless!” 

So, let’s dive into the potential benefits of using lube. We’ll also learn about the different types — and how (and when) to use them. Prepare for lube to be your new best friend.

What is lubricant used for?

Whether you’re getting intimate with a partner or enjoying some solo self-care, when you engage in any form of sex, it can create friction. This can be pretty uncomfortable, but amazingly, your body responds by producing natural lubrication

When you feel aroused (or turned on), the blood flow to your vagina (the internal part of your genitals) increases. This extra blood flow pushes moisture (sometimes called arousal fluid) to the surface of your vaginal walls. This gives you the feeling of being “wet” and serves to ease any friction you might be experiencing. It can also cause your clitoris and labia majora and minora (the outer and inner “lips”) to swell. Pretty sexy science, right?

As this is something your body does all on its own, you might be curious as to why you’d want to use extra lubrication. And it’s a fair question ⁠— but Jamea explains that everyone can benefit from using lubricant. Some people might want to add to what their body naturally produces, while other people “want to use lube because they like the additional sensation that it provides,” she says.

The amount of natural lubrication that we produce can differ from person to person, and some people might experience vaginal dryness (the absence of lubrication) during their lifetime. From hormones to your stress levels, this can happen for a number of reasons. Every vagina is different, and there’s no such thing as perfect — and remember, how wet you get doesn’t necessarily relate to how turned on you are. So, some extra lube may sometimes be necessary. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Sometimes lubricant might come in handy if you want to explore other kinds of sex, like anal sex, but you want to be safe and comfortable. “The anus does not lubricate naturally on its own,” explains Jamea. “So you would need to use a lubricant to make it more comfortable.” 

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Types of sex lube 

Now that you know the benefits, you should also know that not all lubricants are created equally. Yep, different sexual situations call for different types. As different brands use different key ingredients, browsing the shelves of your local drugstore might feel overwhelming at first. 

“There are water-based lubricants, silicone-based lubricants … even a water-silicone combo lube, which has gotten really popular,” Jamea explains.

“I would definitely steer clear of any lubes that are supposed to create an additional warming or tingling sensation or anything flavored,” she explains. “These can cause irritation.” And if you know you have any aversions or allergies to ingredients (like silicone), then make sure you check the packaging. 

So, let’s get into it. What are some of the pros and cons of different types of lube? Prepare to call yourself a lubricant connoisseur. 

The pros and cons of water-based sex lubricants

These are most people’s go-to lubricants that can be used for all types of sex. They’re safe to use with condoms, dental dams, and sex toys made from all materials. From a practical (and potentially less hot) perspective, they’re also really easy to clean up and wash out of bedding and any toys that you use. 

Alongside that, Jamea adds that water-based sex lubricants “tend to feel the most like your body’s natural lube,” which is great if you’re looking for a boost to what your body is already producing. 

However, lubes that are water-based don’t come without their downsides. You might need to keep the bottle close at hand as water evaporates quickly, and you may end up having to apply a little more when you’re getting hot and heavy.

The pros and cons of silicone-based sex lubricants 

Jamea explains if you’re looking for a lube that provides “a really nice, silky feeling,” then lubricants made of silicone could be a good option for you. These tend to be thicker, longer lasting (meaning you have to reapply less often) and are often marketed as anal lubricants. But in actual fact, you can use silicone-based lube during all types of sex, and it’s safe to use with barrier protection. 

However, there are a few things to consider before investing in silicone-based lubricant. Firstly, cleaning it up might be a little bit more difficult. It’s thick in consistency, which can be fun during sex, but less so when you’re trying to get it out of your sheets. And if you are allergic to silicone, then you should absolutely steer clear. 

Silicone-based lubicants are thought to potentially damage silicone sex toys, too. That’s because the materials may react with each other and cause your (likely very expensive!) toy to degrade over time. If you want to use lubricants with your toys, Jamea suggests a water-based lube or trying a water-silicone hybrid. These have the natural feeling of a water-based product, but you don’t have to keep applying them continuously. And importantly, most of the combinations are safer to use with silicone sex toys. 

The pros and cons of oil-based sex lubricants

While oil-based lubricants were once pretty popular, they’re much harder to find now, and this is because they have one pretty big design flaw. While oil-based lubes can be great for external play (to give your partner a massage, for example), they don’t react well with latex. This means that they’re not safe to use while you’re using condoms, dental dams, and diaphragms, as they can break the material down and cause it to tear. This means these barrier methods become less effective in reducing your sexually transmitted infection (STI) and pregnancy risks, so it’s a major consideration you should make. Oil-based products are also associated with vaginal irritation.

What should people look for when purchasing a lubricant? 

Now you know the different kinds of lubes you might spot at the store, you might still be a little unclear on which one is right for you. One really easy place to start is the ingredients list on the back of the bottle. If you already know that you’re allergic to certain ingredients or you have sensitive skin, then be mindful of these when you’re reading the back of the packages. And before you try a new lubricant, try testing it out on the skin on your inner wrist to see if you experience any irritation. 

Long ingredient lists can be daunting, so if you’re not familiar with what’s in your lube, then don’t be afraid to ask the person at the store. They should be able to guide you. 

Substances that shouldn’t be used as lube

What should you do if you don’t have any lube on hand, but you’re in the moment? It can be tempting to reach for something other than a certified lubricant to achieve the desired effect. But take note: don’t just grab anything as a substitute.

Jamea says that while your favorite moisturizer might seem like a good alternative, she doesn’t recommend it. “I would always recommend purchasing an official sexual lubricant,” she says. “There are tons available on the market.” 

And to reiterate once again (it’s important!): if you’re planning to use condoms as your form of birth control or to protect against STIs, an oil-based lubricant should be avoided as it can weaken the latex.

choosing water, silicone, or oil-based lube

What is the best lube for anal sex?

As we now know, when you’re feeling aroused (or turned on), your body naturally responds by pushing moisture to the surface of your vagina. This gives you a natural layer of lubrication. However, the same can’t be said for your anus. So, if you want to do anal, you should use a sexual lubricant. This will make the experience much more enjoyable. 

However, Jamea advises that you don’t need to find anal-specific lubricant. You can get one that covers all bases, so to speak. 

“I recommend sticking with a good quality water, silicone, or oil-based lube,” she says, adding that “You’re going to want to use a lot during this kind of sex because the anus doesn’t lubricate on its own.”

Have a read over the ingredients list and remember, if you’re using a condom or dental dam for protection against STIs, then you should opt for water or silicone-based lubricant rather than oil. 

What is the best lube for sensitive skin? 

It’s always good to be mindful of the products you’re using on your vulva and in your vagina. Harsh and scented products can cause irritation and dryness — pretty much the opposite desired effect of lube. And if you know that you have particularly sensitive skin, then you might want to look out for products that have minimal ingredients and are marketed as gentle on the skin. 

“The best lubes for sensitive skin are probably going to be water-based,” says Jamea, adding: “There are a lot of lubes out there now that are very clean in terms of what ingredients are in them, so definitely keep that in mind — the fewer ingredients, the better.” 

How to use lube

So now that you’re a lube pro and might have even picked the right lubricant for you, you might be curious as to how you can start using it. A couple of top tips to remember: It’s always useful to be mindful of any instructions on the packaging. Most lubes have a shelf life — so be sure to check the expiration date. 

Here are some pointers on how to get started … 

For vaginal sex 

“If you are having vaginal intercourse, you can apply it to the opening of the vagina or inside the vagina. It can also be applied to whatever is being inserted into the vagina — the penis, a sex toy, or a finger,” says Jamea. “Some people do one or the other, but other people do both, and that’s fine too.”

For anal sex 

As mentioned above, when it comes to anal sex, the more lubricant, the better. Don’t be scared to use as much as feels comfortable to you. 

“You can apply lube directly onto whatever is being inserted anally, or to the outside, or inside the anus as well,” says Jamea. “Again, if you’re doing anything anally, you want to use plenty of lube — so in this case, I would recommend applying it to the anus and to whatever is being inserted.” 

For oral sex 

“If you’re using lube when you’re having oral sex, I would apply it to whatever you’re putting your mouth on,” says Jamea. “Lots of people like something such as coconut oil because it has a nice, natural flavor and doesn’t run as big of a risk of irritation or causing pH disruption as synthetically flavored lubes.”

Best lube for sex: The takeaway 

Having weighed all the different lubricant options, from water and silicone-based to au natural, you can probably call yourself a lube pro now. But despite this, being faced with the choice of lubes at the store can still feel overwhelming, and you might not always feel completely sure or comfortable scanning the ingredient lists. One of the easiest ways to pick out the best lube for you is to think about the sex you’re having and the specific needs you might have. 

Each lubricant has its pros and cons, but if you have skin sensitivity or allergies, a simple water-based lube may be best as it doesn’t contain harsh synthetic ingredients. 

Finally, lube is so simple to use and can be really effective. There’s absolutely no shame in boosting the lubrication that your body creates naturally. And who knows, it might take your sex life to the next level. So choose your favorite and get going!

Written by Sophie Cockerham

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