Lube can quickly turn good sex into amazing sex! It helps reduce excessive friction and any resulting pain, allows for bigger boys and wildly textured toys, AND makes the fun last longer.
Of course, not all lubes are created equally. And not all lubes are right for all sexual activities (for example there’s the best lube for jerking off). This means choosing the right lube can become a sticky situation.
But, have no fear my little lube-challenged kinksters! This comprehensive lube guide is here to help you find the right lube for the job.
Let’s slide on in, shall we?
Table of Contents
How Common is the Use of Lube?
Unfortunately, there are still a few misconceptions about what lube is used for and who by.
So, before we begin, let’s do some lube myth-busting.
Lube is only for anal sex. WRONG.
Sure anal sex requires lube (as the anal passage doesn’t self-lubricate), but it’s not the ‘only’ use. Lube can be used for vaginal sex, for fun with sex toys, or just to make masturbation (check out the best lube for handjobs) even more pleasurable.
Check out our homemade anal lube guide if you want to go the DIY route.
Lube is only for older women. WRONG.
It is very common among healthy people of all ages and stages to experience vaginal dryness of some level, and that in itself can be caused by a multitude of reasons. It can be caused by stress, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, or even certain medications.
For some, the vagina may simply not produce enough natural lubrication to get them through a full sex session even when they are fully aroused.
All of this is normal and so is using lube!
Here are a few extra reasons to reach for the lube next time you’re getting jiggy with it…
Lube Is a Pleasure Enhancer: An Indiana University study found that for women, lubricant use resulted in more pleasurable and satisfying sex. Lube helps keep things slippery, wet, and sliding smoothly so you can enjoy the fun friction for longer.
Lube Helps You Have Safer Sex: Lube helps reduce friction when using condoms and so minimizes the risk of them breaking. So lube can actually protect you from unwanted pregnancy and nasty diseases and infections.
Lube also reduces the risk of anal fissures or vaginal tears during sex, which are not only painful but allow STIs to enter your body more easily.
If you are into fisting, you should read our best fisting lube guide.
By keeping things wet and accommodating in your orifices, lube keeps your genitals happy and healthy!
So, now we’ve got acquainted with why lube is a good idea, the next question is…
What Type of Lubricant Should I Pick?
You might be thinking, it’s just lube. Can they really be that different? Well, yes, they can! It’s just not as simple as picking the first lube off the sex shop shelf.
You have to consider what ‘base’/prime ingredient the lube is made from, whether it’s water, oil, silicone, or a hybrid (water and silicone mix).
Each one has its own pros and cons making them better suited or best avoided for certain situations.
Let’s take a look at each of the bases.
Water-based lubes are basically 95% water making them the cheapest lube to produce and to purchase.
Their popularity also stems from the fact that they are compatible with all types of condoms and sex toy materials. And being water-soluble, they are also easy to clean.
That said, many water-based lubes have a long list of other ingredients that aren’t always so genital-friendly. Check out our list of ingredients to avoid for full details.
You also need to pay attention to pH and osmolality. If your water-based lube is leaving you dry and itching, the reason may be hiding in the science…
Water-Based Lubes and pH
The pH scale measures how acidic or alkaline a water-based liquid is. The scale goes from pH 0 (the most acidic) to pH 14 (the least acidic / most alkaline), with pH 7 being neutral.
The adult vagina has a pH of 3.8 – 4.5(or slightly higher after menopause), so is naturally quite acidic. When it comes to anal sex, the rectum is pH 6-7, which is just slightly acidic.
Lube with higher (than needed) pH can cause irritation and even lower the body’s natural defenses against infections. Lube with a lower pH (higher acidity) may cause a burning sensation.
Thus something that may not look like a big change on paper can make a whole world difference to your well-being.
WHO recommends the vaginal lubricants to ideally haveapH of 4.5 and rectal lubricants of between 5.5-7.
You can also try silicone or oil-based lube as they don’t have pH levels to worry about.
Water-Based Lubes and Osmolality
The osmolality of water-based lubes refers to how concentrated it is, or in other words, the number of ingredients in it other than water.
For example, pure H20 has an osmolality of zero, shown as 0 mOsm/kg while tap water has an osmolality of 3 mOsm/kg. The higher the number, the more ‘stuff’ and less water is present.
Now for the scientific part…
When fluids with different osmolality are brought together, they react with each other as they try to balance the difference in water concentration.
For example, your cell fluid (present in vaginal/anal environments) is 280-290 mOsm/kg.
- Lube with a much higher osmolality (a hyperosmolar lube) will suck the water out of your cells. This not only results in dryness and irritation but can cause bacterial vaginosis (BV), yeast infections, and lower your body’s defenses against STIs.
- Hypo-osmolar lubes on the other hand have lower osmolality than your cells. They are rarer but in this case, YOUR cells suck up the H2O from the lubes causing the cells to swell and burst, again compromising the vaginal/anal tissue.
What you need is an iso-osmolar water-based lube, which is a lube with an osmolality close to your natural cell fluid (280-290 mOsm/kg). With these lubes, your cells stay hydrated and intact!
The WHO recommends the use of personal lubricants with an osmolality of 380 mOsm/kg or lower.
For a list of lubes and their pH levels and osmolalities check out Women’s Voices.
Water-Based Lube Pros and Cons
- Easy to clean up Most affordable lube option
- Can be reactivated on the skin by adding water/saliva
- Widely available
- Feels most natural for vaginal sex (pussy juice is mostly water!)
- Comes in different consistencies- you can choose from slow, thick lubes or something nice and light
- Can be used with all sex toy materials (including silicone)
- Safe to use with condoms (both latex and non-latex) and other safe-sex barrier methods
- Soaks into the skin / evaporates/ dries out the quickest
- Needs more frequent application
- Contains preservatives which can damage the mucous membranes and the natural pH of the anus and the vagina
- Some water-based lubes contain a huge list of harsh ingredients meaning more opportunity for irritation for those with sensitive skin
If you’re looking for a super long-lasting lube, then silicone will be your best funtime buddy. It doesn’t evaporate or absorb into the skin resulting in a lube that will keep you slipping and sliding for hours! And without the constant need to reapply.
It’s also non-water-soluble which does make it a bit of a nightmare to clean up but if you want to stay lubed up for some shower sex, then it’s perfect!
Silicone molecules are so large they don’t absorb into the skin. So, if you’re a vagina owner, any leftover lube will be expelled through natural secretions in a day or two.
Silicone lube is also one of the safest in terms of ingredients, as it doesn’t need a bunch of preservatives. This means it’s non-toxic and hypoallergenic.
Sounds perfect, right? Well, almost.
You have probably seen the warnings that silicone-based lubes ruin silicone sex toys.
Some now believe that if the toy degrades with the use of silicone lube it can be a sign of a material blend or low-quality silicone!
If your toy is made from 100% platinum-cured silicone and you pair it with high-grade silicone lube, you should be ok.
I highly suggest you do a patch test on the base of your toy to see if your toy is swelling up. Or simply play it safe and avoid any silicone-on-silicone action.
Silicone-Based Lube Pros and Cons
- Doesn’t soak into the skin
- No need for preservatives
- No nasty chemical smells
- Lasts the longest Non-water-soluble so great for shower/bath play
- Compatible with all safe sex barrier methods, including latex condoms
- Compatible with sex toys made from stainless steel, ABS plastic, glass, stone, and wood
- Harder to come by in local stores (need to go online)
- MIGHT damage silicone toys and may react with toys made from porous materials such as PVC, TPE, and TPR
- Difficult to clean
- Bit more expensive
Hybrid (Silicone & Water)
Water and silicone come together to make hybrid lubes. They tend to feel more like water-based lubes but with an extra ‘cushioney’ feel.
They last longer than water-based lubes but not quite as long as silicone. Great if you like the feel of water-based but hate reapplying all the time.
Hybrid lubes are less likely than water-based lubricants to cause irritation (tend to have fewer ingredients), yet they aren’t regarded as hypoallergenic, as silicone is.
Thanks to the water element, they are also easier to clean up than the silicone-based lubes.
The silicone content in hybrid lubes is pretty low (~12%), but a patch test on your toy is always a good idea.
Hybrid Lubes Pros and Cons
- Less irritation risk
- Lasts longer than water-based lubes
- Compatible with all sex toys made from silicone, stainless steel, ABS plastic, glass, stone, and wood
- Compatible with all condoms
- Not hypoallergenic
- Newer product with less research info available
Oil-based lubes give you a nice slippery feel that tends to last longer than water-based lube.
They are great for all sorts of sexy play, including masturbation (manual or toys- as long as they are non-porous), penetrative sex, and even water-play.
Just as not all water-based lubes are created equal, neither are oil-based lubes.
Petroleum-based oils (such as petroleum jelly/Vaseline) are often marketed as personal lube, but they should be avoided, especially if you own a vagina!
They tend to breed bacteria, doubling the risk of BV and yeast infections.
Stick to plant-based oil for your personal lube. Coconut oil is a popular choice of natural lube as it has no added chemicals or toxins.
We have a coconut oil for masturbation guide if you want more details.
The best is unrefined coconut oil— it’s not bleached and is less processed than refined coconut oil.
That said, coconut oil has a higher pH (5.5 -7.3) than a vagina, so if you’ve got a sensitive ve-jay-jay, then maybe choose another lube. Almond oil, jojoba, sunflower, argan, and ylang-ylang are also good natural oil lube options.
Keep in mind though that oil and most condoms don’t mix.
You can use oil-based lubes with nitrile, polyisoprene, and polyurethane condoms, but since these are usually more expensive and harder to find, you might want to just choose a different lube!
Also, check your toys.
If they are made from a porous material such as TPR, TPE, or PVC, then steer clear of oil-based lubes as the oil will degrade them.
Oil-based lubes will be fine to slick up your silicone toys (as long as they are 100% silicone) and will also be suitable for metal, glass, and ceramic toys.
Oil-Based Lube Pros and Cons
- Nice slippery, silky feel
- Great for moisturizing, and improving the elasticity of the skin and mucous membranes
- Lasts longer than water-based lubricants
- Great for masturbation as not as sticky on your hands
- Can be used in the bath/shower
- Affordable lube
- Compatible with polyurethane and nitrile condoms
- Compatible with sex toys made from silicone, stainless steel, ABS plastic, glass, stone, and wood
- Pretty messy, and hard to clean
- NOT compatible with latex condoms
- Non-latex condoms (polyisoprene) can also be sensitive to oils
- NOT compatible with porous sex toys
- Oils are food for yeast, so if you have recurring vaginal yeast infections, best avoid oil-based lubes
- Can cause allergic reactions if you are allergic to certain nuts/beans that the oil is derived from
- Petroleum-based oils increase the risk of infection and irritation
Your Choice Depends On Your Situation…
As mentioned before, there are many things to consider to ensure you choose the right lube. Let’s break them down…
Sex Toy Material
Certain lubes can react negatively with certain materials. If you don’t want to end up with a ruined toy, then it pays to know what lubes work with what materials.
You can check out our compatibility chart for full details, but generally, the rules are:
- Water-based lubes work with all sex toy materials;
- Silicone lubes MAY react adversely with silicone toys;
- Oil lubes will degrade condoms and porous sex toys.
Where and How You’ll Use It
It might sound like overkill to have different lubes for different sex acts but when your pleasure and possibly your sexual health is in the balance, then it’s worth it.
Consider if you’ll be lubing up the butt, vagina, or penis as some lubes are better suited for different ‘jobs’.
Go for silicone lube. Not only is it long-lasting and thick for added comfort, but it also works with all condom materials so you can enjoy safer sex.
Silicone again. It won’t wash away so easily, whereas water-based lube would be pretty useless!
Water-based lube feels the best as it mimics natural pussy juices! That said, if you have sensitive skin or are prone to vaginal infections, then maybe a hybrid lube would work better.
For a quick and general lube and condom rule, lube up with anything EXCEPT oil-based lubes. They eat right through most condoms and render them useless!
Condom and Sex Toys?
If you are using condoms on your sex toys and want to add lube too, be sure it won’t deteriorate the condom material OR the sex toy. Check the individual lube info above or the compatibility chart below for details.
Lube Compatibility Chart
Lube Ingredients To Avoid
Every person’s body is different, and some people are more sensitive than others. That said, there are certain ingredients that are bad news for all.
Here are the most common lube ingredients that trigger reactions and are best avoided.
- Benzocaine: This is a numbing agent, which dulls your body’s natural response to pain so increases the risk of serious damage or chronic pain when it wears off. It’s also been classed as a potential skin irritant.
- Cyclomethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, and Cyclopentasiloxane (silicones): Although no research has been conducted into the long term effects of these substances on vaginal use, they have been linked to reproductive harm and uterine cancer in animals.
- Glycerin(e): Acts as a moisturizer and is often added to lubes to give them their slippery feel. Some people with sensitive skin can experience an allergic reaction to glycerin. This sugar alcohol has also been linked to yeast infections and further studies have shown Glycerin(e) to increase the susceptibility of genital herpes. It can also damage sperm, so if you’re hoping to conceive, avoid lubes with glycerin.
- Nonoxynol 9 & Chlorhexidine Gluconate: Both of these substances are designed to kill or sterilize microbes, but in doing so, they also kill off healthy bacteria present in the body. They can cause a burning or stinging sensation in the genital and leave you more open to STI and pathogen transmission for more than 24 hours after use.
- Parabens: A preservative added to give longer life to personal care products. Irritation of the vaginal mucous membrane and genital rashes are common. Parabens have also been linked to fertility problems and endocrine disruption (hormone disruption).
- Petroleum Oils: Bacterial breeding grounds which can alter the vagina’s natural pH, and interfere with the proper skin function.
- Polyquaternium-15: This preservative found in a few water-based lubricants can enhance viral activity and the infectivity of HIV.
- Propylene Glycol: A chemical often added as a humectant or preservative but has been linked with Bacterial Vaginosis.
- Sodium Hydroxide (caustic soda/lye): Added as a preservative but is also found in soaps, detergents, and drain-cleaning fluid! Can cause cell damage.
- Undisclosed flavors or fragrance: When you see anything generic in the list of ingredients such as “flavor”, “fragrance”, or “aroma” this usually means a cocktail of undisclosed chemicals, including carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and allergens.
Can Lube Cause Side-Effects?
As with any personal care product, there is always some small risk of side effects such as skin irritation, yeast infections, or allergic reactions.
But, these usually only affect a small number of people.
Basically, it all comes down to the ingredient list and the individual body. For example, a water-based lube containing glycerin or a petroleum-based oil lube will come with the risk of yeast infections.
But not for everyone.
If you have sensitive skin, then you may need to be warier.
Equally, if you have a certain nut or bean allergies and you slather on oil which is derived from those nuts/beans, chances are high that you’ll have an allergic reaction.
A Giant List of Safe/Unsafe Lubes
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, don’t panic. As well as our compatibility table, we’ve created a list of the safest lubes and a list of those best avoided.
Now, when we say ‘safe’ lubes, as we’ve previously mentioned, what is considered ‘body-safe’ for most people, can still cause reactions in a few sensitive souls.
If you know you’re allergic to certain ingredients, then a quick ingredients check will keep you right. For everyone else, do a patch test on your private parts first, just to be sure!
What About Flavored Lubes?
It’s best to avoid lubricants with added flavoring. Why? Because the added sugar in these lubes will throw your pH balance out the window and can bring on yeast infections and BV.
If no one in the mix has a vagina and wants something tasty…then go right ahead!
Does Lube Expire?
In short, yes. Just like most other personal care products, lubes have an expiration date.
While most brands will have a use-by-date printed or stamped someplace on the tube or outer packaging, there are some that won’t mention a date at all.
The shelf life is usually determined for each particular product using accelerated aging.
The general shelf life for lubricants ranges from one to three years according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests. For example, Astroglide’s silicone lube has a shelf life of 2 years.
If you can’t see an expiry date, once opened, chuck it after 1 year to be on the safe side.
Why? Well, the chemicals in the lube can change over time. This could result in deterioration of the product, meaning it won’t work as it should or they could react with the skin.
To ensure the maximum shelf life of your lubes, store them in a cool, dry place and always make sure the cap is closed properly after use to avoid it drying up.
Can Lube Cause Burning?
Lubes containing certain ingredients can cause burning and irritation to your sensitive areas. The two main ingredients to avoid are parabens and glycerin.
If you experience a burning sensation during or after using a particular lube, give yourself a wash with mild soap and warm water.
If the burning or itch doesn’t disappear within a day, then it’s a good idea to contact your doc. And throw out your lube!
Look for ‘paraben-free’ and glycerin-free lubes which will keep you slippery and your genitals happy at the same time.
How To Use Lube?
When you’re hot n horny, the temptation is to just squirt the lube all over the place and get busy! But slow your roll there kinster. Start small with a patch test just as you would with your beloved silicone sex toy. Your genitals are more precious, right?
See how your body reacts or how the lube feels. If all you feel is slick, smooth, and wet (with no burning) then feel free to add more.
Depending on the lube base, you may need to reapply during activities. Use just as much as you need.
Lube up and enjoy the wet and wild ride!