Lube 101 - What, Why, and How to Buy
Updated: May 12, 2021
LUBE. Lube is your best friend in the bedroom, regardless of your age or activities. It reduces friction, protects delicate skin, reduces risk of painful intercourse, and protects condoms and dental dams from breaking, if used correctly. It's also a must for any anal action you take part in, since the anus and rectum do not naturally lubricate.
So basically, it's a wonder, and we all should be using it.
But there are so many lube options on the market that it's difficult to know what to buy, for what activities, and what to avoid. So let's talk through what types of lube are available and their pros and cons. At the end of the page, there's a handy guide for choosing a lube based on your body, toys, and/or protection method, as well as a list of my resources.
Leave a comment if there's anything I missed, or any further questions you have!
Water-based lube is typically a great choice for any genitalia and any activity. It's safe with condoms and all sex toy materials, it's the easiest option to wash off, and these lubes won't stain your sheets. I'm about to tell you some bummer things about water-based lubes, but honestly, they are a great option if you know you don't have skin sensitivities.
That being said, water-based lubes have both a Ph and an osmolality. If you're a vagina-owner and the lube you're using is out of range of typical vaginal Ph and osmolality, you may experience negative reactions to them that can show up as irritation, yeast infection, or bacterial vaginosis.
Typical vaginal Ph is 3.5-4.5, and Ph-balanced lubes are also within that range. Using a water-based lube with a Ph outside that range could affect your own Ph. Additionally, water-based lubes have an osmolality rating. Osmolality is a measure of how much a substance has dissolved into another substance, and in terms of lube, this is a rating of much the lube will eventually absorb moisture out of your skin cells. (Wild, right??) So while some lubes may start nice and slick, you may find that they later cause dryness and irritation. While you would want a lube with low osmolality, most lube manufacturers unfortunately do not publish the Ph or osmolality of their products. That said, the fewer the ingredients in the lube, the more likely the lube is within the appropriate ranges and be non-irritating.
Which brings us to the last consideration; preservatives and additives. Most water-based lubes contain preservatives like glycerin, propylene glycol, citric acid, potassium sorbate, sodium hydroxide, and parabens. Glycerin and propylene glycol can be a food source for yeast, so these should be avoided by vagina-owners. (We only have one lube in stock with glycerin, and it is specifically for masturbation by penis-owners.) The other preservatives are technically deemed safe, but may also cause irritation in vaginas and vulvas. If you know you have sensitive skin or have a diagnosed skin allergy or condition, you may want to consider silicone or oil-based lubricants, which do not contain preservatives or additives.
As for additives, some water-based lubricants contain cooling or warming ingredients. This can be fun for some folks, but like the preservatives, in others this can cause irritation and inflammation. Best to avoid these if you know you have sensitivities. Other additives include thickeners like xantham gum and carrageenan. Note - if you have had a gender-affirming surgery that used digestive tissue, you will want to avoid any lube with carrageenan. Some research suggests that carrageenan causes inflammatory response in those skin cells.
Click through the slides below to see our water-based options; each picture is also direct-linked to each lube in the shop.
Silicone is your long-lasting best friend in the bedroom (or wherever you're banging). These lubes are ultra slippery, smooth and silky in texture, and require only a few drops, compared to water-based lubes that often require a teaspoon or two to really do the job. Silicone lubes also require less reapplications than water-based lube, and can be used in the bath or shower.
Additionally, these lubes don't have a Ph or osmolality rating, so there are no concerns with them affecting your vaginal Ph or drying out your tissue. They also do not typically include preservatives or additives.
That said, these lubes are tougher to wash off for sure. They also aren't compatible to use with silicone toys, no matter what part of the body the toy will be used on/with/in, as silicone lube actually degrades silicone toys over time. But silicone lube is safe to use with all other toy materials.
Click through the slides below to see our silicone-based options; each picture is also direct-linked to each lube in the shop. The biggest difference between these options is the bottle size, price point, and the vibe of the marketing.
Hybrid lubes offer the best of both silicone and water-based worlds; you get the easier clean up of water-based lubes with a bit more long-lasting power, and the need for less lube per session. These lubes have not been tested extensively, so it's still unknown how important their Ph levels and osmolality ratings are in regards to affecting your vagina, if you have one. That said, if you're already comfortable with water-based lube but want to trying something a bit more slippery, this is a great option.
Click through the slides below to see our hybrid options; each picture is also direct-linked to each lube in the shop.
Oil-based lubes cover a variety of plant-based oil bases; coconut oil, olive oil, sweet almond oil, etc. These lubes offer the slipperiness of silicone lube with the addition of skin moisturization, as these oils are partially absorbed into the body after application. In fact, they can often be used for full body massage in addition to lubrication. If you're looking for the most pure option, some folks use pure coconut oil or olive oil as their lubricant of choice.
These lubes also have the benefit of no Ph or osmolality, and typically do not contain preservatives. Some, though, may contain additives; oil-based lubes are the only lubes that can carry CBD. Little research has been done on the effect of CBD on genitalia, but if you have had positive experience with topical CBD previously, you may also experience that with CBD lube. Check the listed ingredients to see what all has been included in addition to the oil.
The downside to this type of lube is that it can be messy, and it can stain your sheets. These lubes also shouldn't be used with latex condoms or dental dams, as they can degrade the latex and cause breakages.
Click through the slides below to see our oil-based options; each picture is also direct-linked to each lube in the shop.
by Body Part, Toy, and Protection Type
More of a visual person? Want to know what's best for your body part, toy, or protection type regardless of lube type? Check out the handy guide below!
Allure: 23 Amazing Sex Toys for Transgender Women, According to Trans Women
Dangerous Lilly's Big Lube Guide
Emily Nagoski: A Sex Therapist’s Rx for Every Couple
Dr. Jen Gunter: Gwyneth Paltrow's Toxic Lube Advice
Dr. Jen Gunter: The Vagina Bible
Prevention: 4 Harmful Lube Ingredients You Should Avoid at All Costs
San Francisco AIDS Foundation: Q&A: Gynecologic and vaginal care for trans men
University of California, SF: Vaginoplasty procedures, complications and aftercare