The Definitive Guide to Lube
By Emma McGowan
It’s very rare in life that a problem has a simple solution. How do we end world hunger? How do we solve the mental health problems caused by social media? Why won’t my cat stop chewing on my houseplants?
But, in the case of painful sex, there’s one super simple, very affordable, incredibly accessible answer to so many problems: Personal lubricant. Lube, lube, lube! Say it with us again: LUBE!
While this magical elixir can’t solve everything — and we want to acknowledge that there are, of course, some very serious medical issues that cause intense and life-altering pelvic pain — you’d be surprised by how many things it can solve.
While the vagina produces some amount of natural lubricant, it’s not always enough to result in pain-free sex. And, of course, the butt almost never produces enough natural lubricant for anal sex.
So when you have penetrative sex without proper lubrication, you’re having sex with too much friction. And while some friction can be good, too much friction can lead to things like tearing of the vulva, anus, and vaginal wall. In addition to hurting, tears in your genitals and butt put you at a higher risk of contracting an STI if you have sex with someone who currently has one. Both things: Not comfortable. Not great. Probably best to avoid them.
This is where lube comes into play. But we’re not just talking spit-on-it-and-hope-for-the-best. There’s so much out there when it comes to personal lubricants! Let’s take a look.
What types of lube are there? And what are they good for?
First things first: What kinds of lube are out there? There are four main types — water, silicone, oil, and specialty — and they’re all good for different things. But as a side note, there are some ingredients to avoid—so be sure to check what’s in your lube before buying.
Water-based lubes are great for vaginal sex, either with a biological penis, a strap, a dildo, or a vibrator. Because their main ingredient is water, they’re easy to clean up and you can use them with condoms. They’re also generally pretty gentle, so they’re a great option for people with sensitive skin or a tendency to develop bacteria-based infections, like UTIs and bacterial vaginosis (BV).
But water-based lubes come with one major drawback: They tend to dry up quickly, because they’re easily absorbed into the (very absorbent) genital and anal skin. That means they’re not a great option for anal sex, which generally requires a lot of lubrication over time. Doesn’t mean you can’t use it for anal, though! Just be prepared to have to keep reapplying.
Silicone-based lubes are kind of the creme de la creme, the corps d’elite of personal lubricants. They feel good. They last a long time. They’re hypoallergenic, so they’re great for sensitive skin. And they can be used with condoms, no problem.
But the one disadvantage of silicone-based lube is that they can’t be used with silicone straps, dildos, or vibrators. That’s because while you might want to use silicone to play with yourself, it ironically doesn’t play well with itself: silicone-based lube can degrade silicone sex toys, creating tiny abrasions and holes where bacteria grows. Blech, no thanks, hard pass!
Fun fact: Ohnut can be used with both water- and silicone-based lubes. Stay juicy out there ;)
Oil-based lubes are generally (although not always) of the DIY-variety. We’re talking the stuff you can probably already find in your kitchen or bathroom, like coconut oil, olive oil, petroleum jelly, or almond oil. The advantage of oil-based lubes is that you probably already have some in your house, so they’re good in a pinch, and they’re all natural, which some people prefer. They’re also super slippery and last a while.
But we don’t recommend oil-based lubes as the first choice, and here’s why: Generally things that you eat should not go on your genitals. That’s because introducing any kind of food product to that super sensitive ecosystem can lead to pH imbalance and bacteria growth, especially if that oil has some hidden sugars in it that aren’t immediately obvious. Food and body oils also tend to sit around and while that might be mediated by cooking, putting them on absorbent skin might not be the best idea.
Finally, you can’t use them with latex condoms or Ohnut, because they’ll degrade them and negate the point of wearing condoms (or Ohnut) at all. But they’re fine with polyisoprene and polyurethane condoms!
And, finally, we have speciality lubes, which are for creating different sensations during sex. There are the classics, like warming and cooling lubes — which create a slight warming sensation and increase blood flow — or flavored lubes, which do exactly what you think they do.
New to the market are cannabis-infused lubes, available in some states, which have either THC or CBD in them. These lubes claim to have effects that include relaxing the vaginal muscles to further reduce pain during sex. Just be sure to check the label before you lube up: The THC ones will also get you high, but the CBD ones shouldn’t.
Be sure to pay attention to what else is in THC or CBD lubes—a lot of these formulations are oil-based, so make sure you know what's in your lube because using it with latex condoms or Ohnut.
When should I use lube?
You should use lube all the time! Just kidding — that would be messy. But in all seriousness, use lube whenever sex isn’t feeling as good as you’d like it to.
One big impediment to people using lube is the misconception that a lack of sufficient vaginal lubrication means that a person with a vagina isn’t turned on. That’s sometimes the case — and can be solved by more sexy time before penetration — but most of the time it's not. Some vaginas just make less lubrication than others. Plus, there are medical reasons, like medications and hormonal imbalances, that can lead to less lubrication.
And always, always, always use lube for anal sex. Use more lube than you think you’ll need! Slather it on there! Remember: the anus doesn’t produce nearly as much natural lubrication as the vagina, so you gotta help things out as much as you can.
Ultimately, lube should be a part of almost everyone’s sexual toolkit. So get out there, start shopping, and figure out the one that’s best for you!