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Lube 101 - Introduction to personal lubricants

Updated: Sep 3, 2023


The what, why, and when of lubes


A hand holding an eggplant covered in lube

Here at Aphrodisia, we love lube. But we also know that some folks who are unfamiliar with lube can feel reluctant to use it. Plus, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the huge array of personal lubricants available, and confused by all the different types. So we wrote this two-part guide to help explain:


  • Why you might want to make lube a regular part of your sex life

  • The main types of lube, and when they should (and shouldn’t!) be used

  • What we mean by ‘body-safe’ lubes, and how to tell them apart from lubes that can be irritating or downright hazardous to your health (in part 2)


Why personal lubricants should be a part of your sex life


Some folks see lube as a last-resort, undesirable substitute for natural vaginal lubrication. They believe that they should just be able to get themselves or their partners as wet as needed, every time. But the human body doesn’t always work that way. Vaginal dryness can have a wide range of causes, from hormonal issues, menopause or medication side effects to simple stress and dehydration. It’s something that many people with a vagina will experience from time to time and doesn’t necessarily correlate with how aroused you are or how much you desire your partner. So it’s a great idea to have some lube on your nightstand for those occasions - there’s no shame in needing it.


Even if vaginal dryness is not a concern, you should probably still be using lube. Why? Because lube makes sex better. Seriously, most things you’re doing without lube will probably feel both easier and more pleasurable if you add lube! Lube, well, lubricates things - it makes things glide even more smoothly and easily than our natural moisture alone. Try it and see for yourself!


Lube is also necessary for anal sex. The anus cannot provide natural lubrication the way a vagina can, so for comfortable and pain-free anal, an appropriate lubricant is pretty much essential. Lube can also be used on hands, on sex toys, during masturbation and in almost any sexual scenario you find yourself in.


Finally, lube can make sex safer. Lube reduces friction, which lowers the risk of injury and small tears to the genital tissues during sex. Such tears can allow microorganisms to enter the bloodstream, which increases the risk of picking up an STI (especially in the anal region). Additionally, using lube reduces the risk of condoms breaking or falling off, which helps reduce the risk of STI transmission or unwanted pregnancy. Just be sure to use a condom-compatible lube, which we’ll talk about below.


You may want to consider using an applicator, especially for anal play, to put the lube exactly where it needs. Less mess, less waste, less work, and more slippery fun.



Main types of lube


There are four main types of personal lubricants to choose from:


  • Water based

  • Oil based

  • Silicone based

  • Water-silicone hybrids


Which lube you pick will depend on several factors, including personal preference and what activities you want to use it for. We’ll break down these factors for all four types below.



Water based lubes


The main ingredient of water based lubricants is - you guessed it - water. Since they’re water based, they wash off easily and won’t stain your sheets, making them a popular choice. Water based lubes are the jack-of-all-trades of the lube world, and are safe to use for all types of sexual activity, including with condoms and sex toys.


Not all water based lubes are created equal however, and some are better for certain activities than others. For example, for vaginal intercourse, you’ll want to pick a lube that has a pH (acidity) and osmolality* that closely matches the vagina. As we’ll see in part 2, certain ingredients tend to mess up the vagina’s pH and water balance, so you’ll want to avoid lubes with those ingredients. Two great pH- and water-balanced lubes we love for vaginal play are Yes! Water based lubricant and Good Clean Love Almost Naked.


*this is a fancy science word that can be thought of as the ‘concentration’ of water in a substance. For more information see here.


For anal play, a thicker water-based lube like Sliquid Sassy can work better. A thicker lube will offer more protection for the anus and rectum, which is important since they cannot self-lubricate and are prone to small cuts and tears. pH and osmolality also matter for anal play - see part 2 of our guide (coming soon!) for more information.


Water based lube Pros:

  • Versatile & safe to use on all body parts, condoms and sex toys

  • Washes off easily

  • Doesn’t stain


Cons:

  • Need to be reapplied more often than other types of lube

  • pH and osmolality are a concern for vaginal and anal use

  • Can have unpleasant tacky-feeling texture as it dries


Oil based lubes


These lubes use an oil as a base, which should be a natural plant oil such as coconut oil or sunflower oil. They can double up as massage oil, and tend to last a long time when applied as they are not as easily absorbed as water based lubes. However, oil based lubes are not safe to use with latex or polyisoprene condoms as they degrade them, increasing the likelihood of breakage. They are also not generally recommended for vaginal use as they can increase the risk of conditions like bacterial vaginosis.


As oil based lubes go, we really like the coconut oil based Coconu for its silky consistency and Montrose Forge's Bear Bate for a luxurious masturbation balm.


Pros:

  • Lasts a long time

  • Doesn’t get tacky


Cons:

  • Not safe for most condoms

  • Not recommended for vaginal use

  • Can cause stains



Silicone based lubes


Silicone based lubes have a unique silky texture that many people love. Just like the silicone used to make many body-safe sex toys, the silicone in lube is chemically inert and hence hypoallergenic. Like oil based lubes, silicone lubes tend to last a long time on the body and don’t need to be reapplied as frequently as water based lubes. You’ll also be able to use less silicone lube than you would a water based lube to achieve the same level of lubrication - so a bottle of silicone lube will last a long time.


Silicone lubes are safe for use with all types of condoms. Plus, we’ve heard multiple penis owners report that silicone lube is the superior lube for masturbation.


We generally recommend not using silicone lube on silicone toys as it may degrade the toy over time. However, this depends on exactly what type of silicone is in the lube and what is in the toy - some lube/toy combos are fine as long as the lube is not left in contact with the toy for an extended period of time (i.e. the toy is washed thoroughly after use). It’s not really possible to tell whether a particular toy and lube will be compatible though, and good quality sex toys aren’t cheap; hence our recommendation not to risk it. But if you do get some silicone lube on your silicone toy, don’t panic - give it a thorough wash and it will likely be fine. The good news is that silicone lube is fine to use on other body-safe sex toy materials such as metal, glass, wood and ABS plastic.


Our favorite silicone lube brands are Überlube for its simple, body-safe ingredients, and Pjur who have several different viscosities of silicone lube formulated specifically for different uses.


Pros:

  • Silky texture

  • Long lasting

  • Hypoallergenic

  • pH and osmolality is not a concern as it’s not water based

  • Compatible with all condoms



Cons:

  • Not recommended for use with silicone toys

  • Can ruin your sheets

  • More expensive than other types of lube (but a bottle can last a long time)



Hybrid lubes


These lubes are typically water based lubes with a small amount of silicone mixed in and often have ‘silk’ in their names. This creates a lube that is mostly water based, but has some of the silkiness of a silicone lube and lasts longer than a purely water based lube. Many condoms come pre-lubricated with hybrid lube.


Hybrid lubes can be used for almost any type of sexual activity and material, with one possible exception - silicone toys. There is a lot of conflicting information on whether hybrid lubes are compatible with silicone toys, and it likely depends on the quality of the silicone toy, how much silicone is in the hybrid lube and what type, how often the hybrid lube is used on the toy and how quickly it is cleaned afterwards. For this reason, we tend to caution against using a hybrid lube as your regular lube on silicone toys, but your mileage may vary.


Two hybrid lubes we like are Sliquid Silk and Sliquid Organics Silk, which both have a pH that is well balanced for vaginal play.



Pros:

  • Silky texture

  • Lasts a bit longer than water based lubricants

  • Safe for almost all uses and materials


Cons:

  • Might cause degradation for silicone toys

  • pH and osmolality are a concern for vaginal and anal use


That’s a lot of information to remember! Lucky for you, we made a helpful (if slightly simplified) ‘cheat sheet’ to help you select a lube type depending on your use case:




Unfortunately, just picking a type of lube isn’t enough - you also want to make sure you’re buying a lubricant that doesn’t contain any harmful or irritating ingredients. But what ingredients should you be concerned about? To find out, read part 2 of our lube guide.



Resources


DangerousLilly’s Big Lube Guide - explains some of the science behind bad lube, and has their own lube recommendation list




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