Don't know which lubricant is best for you? Check out the pros and cons of water, silicone, and oil.
There are almost as many different types of lubricant out there as there are condoms. In some ways, the choice of lube is even more personal.
Lube determines how slippery things are, but it has other properties that change the sexual experience. Factors like pH and certain ingredients make a world of difference for both anal and vaginal sex. Even the person inside the condom may find that some lube inside increases the sensation in their penis.
It's also important to understand the different properties of lubricants with respect to objects. Certain lubricants (most notably oil based ones) can break condoms or interact poorly with sex toys.
Most personal sex lubricants fall into three different categories:
- Silicone based
- Oil based
Water-based are the most common sex lubricants. Everyone knows KY—that's a water-based kind. Water-based lubricants are available in a wide range of textures and styles, from thin to thick, and even flavors. Fans of anal sex tend to go for very thick water-based lubes.
Water-based lubricants are the safest all around, as they do not harm condoms or sex toys. Water-based lubricants are non-irritating, but the primary disadvantage is the rate at which they dry; the water gets absorbed into the skin or evaporates. Fortunately, it's possible to get water-based lubes going again quickly by adding water or saliva.
Water-based lubricants may contain glycerin, which promotes infections in women. They also frequently contain parabens, which are even more controversial.
Lubricants use parabens as a preservative and protection against bacteria growth. However, parabens have been known to mimic estrogens, and some studies have suggested parabens may be linked to serious health problems.
While we still need further research to say for sure, parabens may also cause allergic reactions. Due to the issues surrounding glycerin and parabens, some glycerin and paraben-free water-based lubes are available. Almost all silicone-based lubes are paraben free.
It's also worth noting that flavored lubricants containing sugar should never be used for vaginal sex, as they can cause infections.
Silicone based lubricants
Silicone-based lubricants last longer than water-based. Texture-wise, they tend to be very thin, so they're better for faster movements. Silicone lubes aren't absorbed and don't evaporate. They're fine for use with latex contraceptives like condoms, but they're not to be used with silicone sex toys. Silicone lubes break down and destroy silicone toys.
While silicone lubes are known to irritate some women, they also contain none of the glycerin and parabens in common water-based formulations. That means they often work better for people who are sensitive.
Silicone lubricants can be hard to wash out from beds and clothes; you need soap, not just water. This lack of water solubility becomes a significant advantage with silicone lubes when used for sex in the shower or in the bath. They're widely used for shower sex as a result.
Silicone lubes can even be used for shaving in a pinch, though not many people use them for this.
Oil-based lubes are products like massage oil and Vaseline. These cannot be used with condoms or rubber sex toys. While they may last a while, they can be extremely messy and hard to clean. Oil-based lubes can also cause allergic reactions and are generally considered to be bad for vaginal health.
Anal sex practitioners still use oil-based lubricants for manual simulation with polyurethane gloves or with polyurethane condoms, due to their long-lasting properties and slickness. "Crisco" is famous for certain activities in this field due to its texture and long-lasting nature.
Similarly, male masturbators are frequent users of oil-based lubes, as they are readily available, long-lasting, and have no usual concerns about latex interaction and internal infection.
Conversely, this long-lasting quality means oil-based lubes can hang around when they're no longer wanted. By leaving a coating inside one person—particularly, inside the vaginal wall—an oil-based lubricant increases the chance of infection.