Trying out lube at Babeland in Brooklyn
Trying out lube at a Babeland Brooklyn event / Photo: Liz Clayman (cc)

How to Choose a Lubricant for Pleasure and Safety

By OBOS Sexuality & Relationships Contributors |
UPDATED: Sep 12, 2014

Vaginal lubrication often occurs naturally during sexual excitement and arousal. Women vary in how much lubrication they produce and the amount of lubrication desired for pleasurable sexual activity — this variation is totally normal.

Reduced lubrication is very common and can be the result of hormonal changes in a woman’s body  — during breastfeeding or perimenopause and postmenopause, for instance — or caused by medications such as antihistamines, hormonal forms of birth control, chemotherapy, and medications for ADHD and depression. Also, you may have decreased lubrication if you are dehydrated, or if you’re not fully aroused.

Lubricants can be purchased online or at drugstores, many supermarkets, and sex-toy shops. Whether you’re having vaginal sex with a partner or masturbating on your own, you may want to add lubrication to:

  • Decrease painful friction in the vagina and/or anus
  • Enhance sexual arousal by stimulating the flow of blood to the vulva, which encourages your body to create some of its own lube
  • Lubricate the clitoris; this can create more sexual pleasure and an easier route to orgasm
  • Change taste during oral sex
  • Keep vaginal skin soft and help maintain elasticity of vaginal walls

If you have chronic pain, a lubricant containing lidocaine or benzocaine — numbing agents that can reduce vaginal, oral or anal pain — may be prescribed or recommended to you.

image of lube and condoms

Photo: Sydney Daoust (cc)

When it comes to choosing a lubricant, consider two things: your comfort and your safety.

Comfort refers to your pleasure; the amount and staying power of the lubricant can make a difference in how good the sexual activity feels, and whether the lubricant irritates your genitals.

Safety refers to your health; oil-based lubricants cannot be used with latex condoms, as they can destroy the latex and cause condom failure.

Water-Based Lubricants

– Water-Based Lubricants with Glycerin
The most commonly sold lubricants are water-based with synthetic glycerin, which produces a slightly sweet taste. Most flavored lubricants and warming lubricants contain glycerin. When water-based lubes start to dry, it is best to add water or saliva rather than just adding more lube, as the water makes it slippery again.

Examples: Astroglide, K‑Y Liquid/Jelly, Embrace, FriXion, Wet, Good Head, Revelation, Wet Flavored, ID, Replens, and Liquibeads (suppositories for dry vaginal walls).

Pros: Easy to find, low-cost, safe to use with latex condoms, do not stain fabric.

Cons: Dry out quickly, often sticky or tacky, synthetic glycerin can trigger yeast infections in women who are prone to them, products containing parabens or propylene glycol can irritate sensitive skin.

– Water-Based Lubricants, No Glycerin
If you have recurrent yeast infections, these are the lubricants to use. They can contain vegetable-derived glycerin, which does not trigger yeast infections like the lubes listed above.

Examples: Maximus, Ultra Glide, Liquid Silk, Slippery Stuff, O’My, Sensua Organics, Probe, Carrageenan, Glycerin, and paraben-free Astroglide.

Pros: Last longer than lubricants with glycerin, can reduce irritation to the genitals, safe with latex condoms, do not stain fabric, usually thicker and provide a cushion, some are more recommended for anal play (Maximus).

Cons: Can have a bitter taste due to the absence of glycerin, usually found only online or at adult stores, those that contain parabens or propylene glycol can irritate the skin.

Silicone Lubricants

These last the longest of all and are especially recommended for women with chronic vaginal dryness or genital pain. Silicone lubricant is different from the silicone used in breast implants and is not considered dangerous; it cannot penetrate through the skin’s pores. Most silicone lubricants are hypoallergenic.

Examples: Eros, Wet Platinum, ID Millennium, Pink, Gun Oil, Slippery Stuff. Pros: Safe with latex condoms, stay on underwater, odorless and tasteless, last three times as long as water-based lubricants.

Cons: Expensive, cannot be used with silicone or CyberSkin sex toys, difficult to find (online or adult stores only), must be washed off with soap and water if too much is used.

Oil-Based Lubricants

The following oil-based lubricants can destroy latex condoms. They are safe to use with condoms made from nitrile, polyisoprene or polyurethane.

– Natural Oil-Based Lubricants
These lubricants often can be found in your kitchen. The general rule is that if it’s safe for you to eat, it’s safe to put on your vulva and inside your vagina. The body can clear out natural oils more easily than petroleum-based lubricants. Certain oils, such as grapeseed and apricot, tend to be thin and therefore better for vaginal intercourse than some of the others.

Examples: Vegetable, corn, avocado, peanut, and olive oils; butter; Crisco.

Pros: Great for genital massages, safe for the vagina, safe to eat, good for all forms of sexual play, low-cost, easily accessible.

Cons: Destroy latex condoms, stain fabric.

– Synthetic Oil-Based Lubricants
These take longer to clear out of your body than natural oils.

Examples: Mineral oil, Vaseline, body lotions, creams such as Stroke 29 or Jack Jelly.

Pros: Great for external masturbation, low-cost, easily accessible.

Cons: Irritate vulva, destroy latex condoms, stain fabric.