Many people have no idea how important making smart choices about lubricant can be when they’re trying to have safe, healthy sex. Lubricant is particularly important for people who are using condoms, gloves, or other barriers during their sexual activities. Latex on skin creates more friction than skin on skin, and without a proper lubricant, that can get uncomfortable – particularly for the receptive partner.
Lube makes sex more fun. It also makes sex less painful, and possibly less risky. As such, it’s a great idea to use lubricants during any sort of penetrative sex, no matter what is doing the penetrating. Penises, fingers, or sex toys fit better into vaginas and anuses when they’ve been lubricated properly (and they move more freely as well!). Lubricant can also make hand jobs more sensual and fun, and adding a little lube to the side of a oral dam that faces your partner makes protected oral sex feel more like unprotected oral sex.
In short, there are very few kinds of sexual activity that don’t benefit from a proper application of lube. Kissing might be an exception, but you could make a case that lip balm serves a similar purpose…
What kind of lube should I use?
In general, water-based lubricants and silicone-based lubricants will be safe with most barrier methods (think condoms and oral dams). However, avoid oil-based lubricants with latex condoms because they can cause them to weaken.
There’s some concern that silicone-based lubricants can degrade silicone sex toys, although it’s somewhat dependent on toy quality. When in doubt, either test the lube on a small part of the toy – or even better – put a condom over the toy and then lube up.
It’s also important to know that some vaginas can be very sensitive to what’s put in them, lube-wise. Avoid using lubricants that contains sugar or glycerin for vaginal penetration. These ingredients are common in water-based and flavored lubricants and may increase yeast infection risk for some woman. Beware that oil-based lube-like substances (like petroleum jelly) can increase the risk of certain vaginal infections as well.
Okay, so which kind is better?!
Both water- and silicone- based lubricants have their fans. Every brand tastes, smells, and feels a little different, so it’s a good idea to experiment and see what you like best. Reasons to go for water-based: if it starts to dry out, you can usually extend it with a spritz of water. It also adsorbs into the skin, making clean-up simple. Reasons to go for silicone-based: you can use it in the shower (or if you’re otherwise under water) to have steamy, well-lubricated sex and it will still come off with soap! Silicone-based lube also generally lasts longer, but if it dries out, you have to add more. It can also sometimes stain your clothes or sheets.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, and having difficulty, you may want to check out a sexual lubricant that is marketed specifically for those trying to conceive. Some lubricants may reduce the likelihood of a pregnancy occurring, although know that spermicidal lubricants are not a terribly effective form of contraception.
Is there anything else I should watch out for?
Other than making certain your lube is safe for use with condoms, the biggest thing to watch out for is allergic reactions. Some people are sensitive to perfumes and other ingredients present in commercial lubes, so if you know that you or your partner is susceptible to skin allergies, try products out on some less delicate skin before using it for sex. In addition, you may wish to avoid spermicidal lubricants containing nonoxynol-9, a spermicide. Some studies have suggested that frequent use can irritate tissues and potentially increase the risk of certain sexually transmitted infection.
Interested in free lube and other safer sex supplies?
Check out the Wellness Office’s Condom Fairy program.
Dr. Elizabeth Boskey is an AASECT certified sexuality educator and certified health education specialist who has been involved in sex education for over two decades. She writes about sexually transmitted diseases at About.com and covers health topics for several other websites and news outlets. She’s also a Visiting Scholar for the Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program at Boston University. Feel free to e-mail Dr. Boskey any questions or suggestions for future blog topics.