On the underrated love song “2 Become 1,” five safe-sex activists known as the Spice Girls sang, “Be a little wiser, baby. Put it on, put it on.” They were tireless advocates for contraception, but they might as well have been promoting another tool for safety and comfort in the bedroom: lube.
Lubricant can be many things for sex: a stimulant, a necessity for penetration, even a fertility booster. There are a variety of flavors, textures, scents and prices to consider.
I’m here to guide you through the wide world of lube so you never end up scratching your head at the drugstore and buying the cheap store brand — it might not be as great a deal as you think, and it might also be completely wrong for your sex life. And when it comes to safe sex, quality matters.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is lube made of?
There are three main bases for lubricant: water, silicone and oil. The most common is the water-based lube you can get over-the-counter and for cheap. Alyssa Dweck, practicing gynecologist at CareMount Medical in Westchester County, New York, tells me that most water-based lubricants involve a water-sugar solution that absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave a sticky residue.
That means you don’t have to shower right away or worry about staining your sheets; you can get right to the snack table. But it also means you need to reapply it often. Oil and silicone alternatives can usually last a full session.
Is lube safe?
Lubricant is safe to use and should only be applied topically. You should use it! Trust me when I say your partner probably wants you to, even if you’re already using a lubricated condom. It doesn’t matter whether you’re having vaginal or anal sex; lube just makes insertion easier for you or your partner.
Just make sure the bottle you use has an FDA or GRAS (generally recognized as safe) approval. “If it’s medical-grade safe, I don’t believe it poses any health concerns,” Dweck says.
Is some lube bad for vaginas?
Generally, no. But lubricants can affect the health of cells inside the vagina. Osmolality measures how many chemical particles in fluids like lube will dissolve. “Higher osmolality would come about from certain ingredients like glycerin, parabens or propylene glycol. These are all common ingredients in water-based lubricants,” Dweck says.
How to apply lube
Be liberal with your lube and apply it to both partners. Make it a sexual slip-and-slide if you need to. If you’re worried about over-applying, start with a dollop or two and increase as necessary for you and your partner. Just remember, for anal sex, you’ll likely need more than you think.
Natural lube alternatives
For a natural alternative to lube, you can use coconut or vitamin E oil. But don’t just buy it as an over-the-counter pill: “Put a pin in it and let the oil come out and use that alone as a lubricant,” Dweck says. Moreover, don’t use jellies or oils that contain petroleum, which can cause infection or change vaginal pH balance.
What lubricant works with a condom?
When you’re using a condom — and, really, you should be — oil-based lubricants are out of the question. “Oil-based lubricants are not condom compatible,” Dweck says. They can damage the latex. For that reason, go for water- or silicone-based lubes.
Best lube for butt stuff
If you’re having anal sex with a partner or exploring your prostate, water-based lubricants won’t work as well. Silicone-based lubes are your best option. The risk, as reported by Teen Vogue, is that silicone can corrode latex and cause a condom to break. But still, silicone-based lubes are going to make your life much easier. They don’t need reapplication (like oil or water) and they limit friction in what’s a tight area of the body.
Best lube for sensitive skin
The wrong lube can leave the skin surrounding genitals red, itchy, irritated and breaking out in a rash or hives. Refinery29 recommends seven different lubes for sensitive skin.
What about lube and oral sex?
Silicone shouldn’t be swallowed or consumed in high doses. “If you’re having oral sex in the middle of intercourse, once you put on the lubricant, it would be a better idea to stay away from silicone and focus more on water-based,” Jamie Lipeles, founder of Marina Ob/Gyn in Southern California, tells me.
Unlike water, which absorbs into the body, silicone passes through the gastrointestinal tract and defecation. “Your body probably wouldn’t even know it’s there, but you might cause more gastrointestinal upsets, get diarrhea and stomach cramps,” Lipeles says.
Can lubricant really help with fertility?
Some lubes are spermicidal and a great contraception aid. If you’re trying for a baby, though, try a sperm-friendly, glycerin-free lubricant.
What kind of lube to buy
You can have it all. The thing about lube is it has a different stimulating and chemical effect for almost everyone. So it’s best to have multiple lubricants on hand in case one doesn’t work or dries up too quickly.
But don’t worry too much. Like everything else that’s funny and messy about sex, lubricants are a conversation to be had ahead of time — just like who gets to eat the pizza. They take time to master, too. Just don’t ruin your hot new date by pulling out a tub of vegetable oil.