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How to Choose the Best Lube for Sex: Types of Lubricants, Pros, and Cons

Today, we're trying to find the best lube for sex. Oil, natural, silicone, and water-based lubricants — there’s quite a competition!

Most people use some kind of sex lube to make time with their partners more enjoyable. Sometimes, one partner may feel ready to go but the other is not quite there, or they may need some help to stay physically wet during sex. 

There are several kinds of sex lube, and you may want to experiment with a few types of lube to find your best fit.

At different times, people can experience moderate to severe vaginal dryness. This can lead to discomfort or pain. Vaginal dryness may occur when a person is undergoing chemotherapy, breastfeeding, or menopause.

As a result, people may prefer to enhance their body’s natural lubrication with a store-bought lube. A sex lubricant can help in these circumstances. A sex lube is a gel or liquid that is applied during sexual intercourse to moisten the vagina, vulva, or anal area. 

The lubricant can also be applied easily to a partner’s penis or various sex toys to make them more slippery.

Today, we have various types of lube from which to choose.

The most popular bases for lubes are:

  • Water
  • Silicone
  • Oil
  • Natural

Hybrid lubes usually contain both silicone and water. Different formulations are available to suit specific needs.

The most common sex lubricants are formulated with water. They are readily available from different brands and at various price points. Water-based lubes have no taste, feel like natural lubrication, and are less likely to irritate sensitive skin. Also, these lubes do not interfere with oral sex.  

Since these lubes contain mostly water, they are quickly absorbed by the skin. When used as a sex lube, it can dry out a little quicker than other formulas. 

To improve each application’s longevity, a lot of water-based lubricants have been carefully formulated with moisturizers like carrageenan or aloe vera. These moisturizers help by soothing the skin, reducing dryness, and not interfering with your sexual experience.

Water-based sex lubes have the added benefit of being totally condom-compatible, as opposed to most oil-based sex lubes or petroleum jellies that corrode latex.

However, because a lot of water-based sex lubricants have an increased concentration of certain active particles (osmolarity), they may disrupt the skin’s surface epithelium and facilitate an infection. 

Water-based sex lubes are also compatible with most sex toys, but they are not ideal for the bath or shower (as they tend to wash off).

If you’d rather not reapply lube, then an oil-based sex lube is a great option.

Oil-based sex lubes may contain plant-based (such as olive oil) or synthetic oils.

Oil-based sex lubes can easily double for massage time. However, they’re not compatible with latex condoms. This kind of sex lube can increase the risks of a torn or ripped condom, which compromises its protective features against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy.

It’s also worth noting that these lubes can stain fabrics like sheets and clothing, creating some clean-up challenges. 

Oil-based sex lubes may be best suited for people who are in long-term relationships and do not use condoms, as well as for people who want to avoid certain preservatives and additives that often appear in other lubricants.

Lubricants that feature silicone often contain no water. Note that this may be an advantage for some people but a disadvantage for others.

Silicone-based lubes tend to feel different than most other lubes, mainly because silicone isn’t absorbed by the skin, unlike water or oil. This can open up an exciting range of possibilities and spice up your sex life. As silicone is hypoallergenic, most people will not experience any irritation. In addition, these sex lubes also tend to last longer before requiring reapplication and are safe to use with condoms.

However, these lubes can damage silicone sex toys, as the lubricant tends to solidify on the toy, and some may leave a sticky residue.

If you are concerned about certain ingredients in manufactured options, then natural lubes may be right for you. They have grown in popularity over the last few years. Coconut oil is one of the most popular choices when it comes to natural lubes.

That being said, coconut oil can increase the risk of condom breakage and stain sheets. It’s also important to avoid cross-contamination from using the same jar of coconut oil for sex as well as cooking.

If you’re using a condom, put it on and then apply the sex lube of your choice to the outside. 

If you’re not using condoms, you can apply the sex lube directly to the vagina or penis. In fact, lubricating these areas is a great idea for foreplay. For anal sex, make sure to lube your anal area thoroughly.

Often, thicker lubes are ideal for anal sex. The anal walls are more delicate and thinner compared to the vaginal walls, so a richer sex lube will keep the area slippery enough to reduce the risks of tears and cuts inside the rectum. 

Overall, anal sex is especially risky when it comes to STI transmission. This is why condom use is essential. Also, make sure to use a sex lubricant that is latex-friendly.

Also, the anus absorbs water quickly and can dry out faster with a water-based lube. Hence, silicone-based sex lubes are often the best for anal sex. Avoid natural options like coconut oil, as they aren’t compatible with a condom.

You may find all types of options when you go lube shopping. Types include natural, flavored, warming, and tingling.

Healthy vaginas have a pH level of about 3.5 to 4.5, so the sex lube you choose should be about the same level. There are some ingredients to avoid due to the risk of inflammation or irritation. These include:

  • Nonoxynol-9
  • Glycerin
  • Petroleum
  • Chlorhexidine gluconate
  • Propylene glycol

When possible, use a proprietary, tested substance as a lube for sex. This will help you avoid allergies and enjoy your experience.

Amaro, H., et al. “Covert Use, Vaginal Lubrication, and Sexual Pleasure: A Qualitative Study of Urban U.S. Women in a Vaginal Microbicide Clinical Trial.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, Springer US, 28 July 2009, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-009-9509-3.

Sutton, K.S., et al. “To Lube or Not to Lube: Experiences and Perceptions of Lubricant Use in Women with and without Dyspareunia.” The Journal of Sexual Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 9 Jan. 2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22082320/.

Juraskova, I., et al. “The Acceptability, Feasibility, and Efficacy (Phase I/II Study) of the OVERcome (Olive Oil, Vaginal Exercise, and MoisturizeR) Intervention to Improve Dyspareunia and Alleviate Sexual Problems in Women with Breast Cancer.” The Journal of Sexual Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 May 2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23635341/.

Herbenick, D., et al. “Women's Use and Perceptions of Commercial Lubricants: Prevalence and Characteristics in a Nationally Representative Sample of American Adults.” The Journal of Sexual Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 11 Mar. 2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24521034/.

“What Is a Lubricant?” ISSM, 21 Sept. 2018, www.issm.info/sexual-health-qa/what-is-a-lubricant/.

Edwards, D., and N. Panay. “Treating Vulvovaginal Atrophy/Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause: How Important Is Vaginal Lubricant and Moisturizer Composition?” Climacteric : the Journal of the International Menopause Society, Taylor & Francis, Apr. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4819835/.

Gorbach, P., et al. “The Slippery Slope: Lubricant Use and Rectal Sexually Transmitted Infections: A Newly Identified Risk.” LWW, 2012, journals.lww.com/stdjournal/Fulltext/2012/01000/The_Slippery_Slope__Lubricant_Use_and_Rectal.14.aspx.

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