“Moisture is the essence of wetness” – Derek Zoolander
If you pointed a gun at my head and demanded one ultimate tip for good sex, I’d probably blurt out “LUBE!”
Why? Because it’s such a basic element that can enhance just about any sexual situation. Sexual lubricants are designed to make everything more slippery, wet and ease friction. We often think of friction as good for sex as rubbing produces sensation, however it’s often too much sensation for delicate bits and not a very pleasant one. Lube reduces friction so body parts can slide together more easily, rather than dragging or even tearing (ouch!!) which is very important in areas like the vagina or anus, where microtears can occur and be vulnerable to infection (way more ouch!).
Some people produce more than enough fluids on their own, or just prefer less slippery sensations. However, if you do want or need lubrication beyond what your body produces, you shouldn’t feel in any way bad about it; it’s just another unique feature of your personal sexual blueprint. Finding the right lubricant for you can be difficult when supermarkets (here in New Zealand, at least) stock such a limited range of products and education about their ingredients is so rare.
As a store assistant in an adult toy shop, the most common purchase was always inevitably some kind of lube. People came from far and wide to test out our range of unique lubes, often due to allergies or bad experiences with supermarket brands. I also learned at the store that not all lubricants are made equal and some can have disastrous effects when used with the wrong toy.
So how do I use lube?
If you’ve never tried lube before it’s easy to go from 0 to huge mess real quick. Start with a pea sized amount and apply to the relevant body parts – I recommend using lube for manual stimulation (with your hands) long before intercourse enters the picture. If you are using a very liquid lube I suggest dispensing it into your hand over your body, so any spills are caught on you rather than your sheets. You can reapply as necessary; it’s pretty hard to go too far with lube but I’ve actually done it. For the record, a handful of coconut oil is probably too much. If you don’t like runny lube, there are quite a few thicker lubes that are more gel like, particularly silicone lubes.
But how do I ask my partner to use lube?
If your partner is already enjoying the sex but you’re not, it’s very important to verbalize that lube would greatly enhance your pleasure. It’s important to be an advocate for your pleasure – this is just as critical as asking to use a condom or enquiring about STI history. You can even bring them up in the same conversation.
Alternatively you can just start keeping lube near your bed or bathroom and grab it yourself when necessary. Remember to still CHECK with your partner if it’s ok to use it, as you might not know the complete list of their allergens! Having lube nearby and accessible makes it much more likely that you’ll end up using it. I like pump top bottles like the Kiwi made organic Love Lubricant but you can always go step further and get a self heating lube dispenser. Yep, this is a thing. So with warm lube just a hand wave away, there’s no better time to get wet and wild with yourself or your lover(s).
Silicone/oil versus Waterbase
These are the three main types of personal lubricant. Silicone and oil based lubes are longer lasting and water resistant but may damage condoms or toys, waterbase is safe for everything but you’ll need to use more of it.
Waterbase lubes are the most common as they can be used for anything and with any material toy, are easy to clean up and generally cheaper to buy. My favourite waterbased lube is Probe, which has the unique property of being able to come back from drying out just by adding water; very economical for those of us who like a second round!
Silicone lubes are longer lasting and water resistant, which means they are excellent for use in the shower/bath/pool but also for anal sex (where waterbased lubes are prone to being absorbed) when you want a little to go a long way. That also makes them a little more difficult to clean up, but you use much less overall as they tend not to evaporate the way waterbases can. My favourite pure silicone lube is Astroglide X. The vital thing to remember about silicone lubricant is that it is not compatible with silicone toys. Combining silicone lube with a silicone toy will ruin the finish of the toy, leaving the surface sticky forever.
“So,” you’re thinking, “If silicone lube is good for butt stuff but not silicone toys, what the hell do I use with my silicone buttplug?”
Fear not, silicone-waterbase hybrids exist! My all time favourite hybrid Is lube XXX , sadly no longer available in NZ, but a close second is the well named Uberlube – which can also be used to style your hair and prevent sport chafing. Neither have hurt my silicone toys so far, and both are odourless and tasteless. I do like the Uberlube packaging a bit better as the glass bottle is just so classy.
What ingredients to watch out for:
Glycerine is a common lubricant ingredient; however, it is essentially a type of sugar alchohol which is a bad idea for vagina owners as it can upset the delicate vaginal ecosystem, leading to recurring yeast infections. Flavoured lubes can also contain sugar so check the labels carefully. I don’t enjoy flavoured lubes much myself but they are a great way to help with oral sex of all types if you aren’t personally into that special natural flavour. You can also be allergic to glycerine, so that may be the source of irritation if you’re experiencing pain while using a lube containing it.
Parabens are also found in some lubricants, which may or may not concern you as a chemical class. It’s also an allergen just like glycerine can be.
Oil based lubes – these are actually great in most contexts, especially coconut oil. They’re longer lasting like silicone lubes and deliciously slippery. The only thing to be wary of is the fact that oil based lubes weaken latex condoms, leading to higher breakage incidents. Very thick oils or petroleum based products like Vaseline are not recommended due to their likelihood of sticking around longer than desired, building up bacteria.
Coconut Oil – Coconut oil is a wildly popular choice of lubricant due to its cheapness, longevity and pleasant scent. It hasn’t been studied much at all, leading to some controversy about whether it’s truly safe to use. Because it contains caprylic acid, coconut oil can be used to treat candida (yeast infections) but if you have struggled with your vaginal flora balance in the past, it might not be a good idea to mess with it.
So my advice here is to tread carefully and as with all lubes, test first! Also it’s best to have a spoon or scoop to avoid transferring bacteria directly into your tub of oil. That being said, I still use it myself and there are people who consider it the best of all possible lubes. Coconut oil, like many oils, is also comedogenic, meaning if you are prone to breakouts or have oily skin you might want to use less or steer clear of coconut oil.
Update 23/11/18: I can now say with some certainty that coconut oil disrupts the natural balance of bacteria in mucus membranes, making it unsafe for vulvar or vaginal use. If you are not already using it, it’s probably better not to start. Related study
Menthol or cinnamon oils – These are common ingredients in “warming” or “tingling” lubes and if you can tolerate them , go for it! However, they are also common allergens or just feel downright unpleasant for some people, so my advice is to test carefully (try on your arm first, then a small patch of gential tissue) or steer clear of them if you have sensitive genitals. If you are still looking for a stimulating clitoral spray or cream that doesn’t contain these ingredients, I recommend one that contains topical L-Arginine. This is a circulation enhancer that increases blood flow to the erectile tissue of the vulva and clitoris, rather than just producing a tingling sensation.
Numbing agents – Many lubes made specifically for anal sex contain numbing agents like benzocaine. This is because anal sex can be a little uncomfortable or painful, especially if you aren’t properly prepared. While some people can enjoy a bit of pain mixed with their pleasure, pain in this case it alerts us to the possibility of microtears in the anal wall which can lead to infection. So for safety’s sake it’s better to take it slow and use lots of non numbing lube for anal sex. Instead, try a “soothing” ingredient like aloe vera. Pjur makes a pretty decent spray.
Why am I not as wet as I used to be?
It’s pointless to compare your sexual functions with other people, but it’s hard to resist comparing your present self to your past self. If you are worried that your vagina and vulva are not lubricating quite the way you remember, there may be a few factors involved. Medication can have a profound effect on natural lubrication, especially allergy pills and hormonal birth control. Your regular cyclical hormones play a big role too; as we age we tend to lubricate less overall, especially after menopause due to the drop in production of oestrogen. If you are a transman with a vagina, hormone treatments can impact your lubrication too – Buck Angel has now created the first lubricant specifically for transmen.
For post-menopausal women, an oil based or silicone lube is often recommended as they are thicker and longer lasting. My local favourite for this is Bonk oil base which also happens to be certified organic.
Medical disclaimer: I would also strongly advise menopausal/postmenopausal women to see your GP for topical oestrogen cream (OVESTIN) to help the vagina become naturally lubricated. This can help with microtears and ease dryness – also good for neo vaginas! If you do have bleeding in post-menopausal age see a Doctor immediately as this can indicate endometrial cancer.
“sometimes your genitals just aren’t in tune with your mind – a phenomenon called Genital Arousal Non-concordance”
General stress levels can also affect your genital arousal response, or sometimes your genitals just aren’t in tune with your mind – a phenomenon called Genital Arousal Non-concordance; this affects women more strongly than men. This means sometimes you may lubricate without being aroused, or sometimes you won’t lubricate when you are aroused. It can also be as simple as dehydration! I am a big advocate of keeping water by the bedside as water breaks during sex are a good opportunity to catch your breath, change position and reapply lube. So don’t place more undue stress on yourself by feeling bad about not being wet – enjoy the sexuality you have now, grab some lube and slip slop slap.
Not just for penetration
This is where I stand on my soapbox and get a little preachy because I’m passionate about not overlooking the joys of non penetrative sex. Cis-heteronormativity has given us a cultural obsession with penetration as the definition of sex, but the world of carnal delights is so much broader once you move past that limiting view point. I don’t even like using the word “foreplay” as it is literally defining it as something that comes “before” something else. Oral and manual sex, even frottage (dry humping), are all valid sexual activities in themselves worthy of elevating into a main course.
“lube lets your hands do amazing friction-less tricks that are a bit harder to pull off with spit alone”
With that in mind, why not use lube to turn up the volume on these activities? Make ye olde handjob a totally new experience with the addition of a new lube. A lot of the techniques in the advanced oral section of The Guide to Getting It On require a lot of lube as a prerequisite before attempting them, as lube lets your hands do amazing friction-less tricks that are a bit harder to pull off with spit alone. If you’re really keen, try laying down some towels, plastic or awesome sex blanket and going for a full body erotic Nuru massage. I like to use coconut oil for this, but proper nuru gel or other massage oils that are safe for internal use can be good too.
So we’ve talked about partnered fun but how about when you want to have a little “me time”?
Want to really have some fun? Lube can make masturbation twice as nice – especially when it comes to making toys extra sensational. It also helps to make your solo activity as close to partnered sex as possible. Why is that important? Because if your masturbation pattern is impossible for a partner to replicate, it’s harder for you to find as much pleasure with your partner as you do with yourself. For penises this means using lube and perhaps a silicone sleeve (like a fleshlight), for vulvas & vaginas this means using manual stimulation instead of a vibrator (unless you use them with a partner too) and not using pressure like a pillow or soft toy. For penis friendly tips check out this article on how to change your masturbation habits for better sex.
Can I use lube while trying to get pregnant?
Some types of lube can affect the ability of sperm to reach the egg. Luckily, other types have been proven not to affect sperm at all. Preseed is the most popular of these.
- The main types of lube are silicone, oil based or water based
- Silicone lubes are good when you need thicker or longer lasting lube, but will damage silicone toys
- For more info read this extremely thorough and scientific guide from Dangerous Lilly (my sex blog idol)
- Your body is constantly changing, which is why you may be more/less wet.
- Oil based lubes can compromise latex condoms and should not be used together