Using a lubricant during sexual activities offers sexual health advantages, most importantly to protect delicate anal and vaginal tissue from damage during intercourse, masturbating, or playing with toys. The vaginal canal is highly absorbent as well, so consideration for products used internally is a good sexual health measure. Using an alternative for lube has the potential to spread bacterial, fungal, or viral infections. Saliva can spread STI’s, Vaseline disrupts the pH of the vagina increasing the risk of bacterial infection and Crisco – use it for cooking! (sorry boys, try this instead (Boy Butter)
Not all lubes are equal
The challenge is deciding which lube is the best for you. There is a huge array of products available on the market from water-based to silicone, flavoured, organic, arousing, and desensitising lube. Do you have allergies or sensitive skin? Are you breastfeeding? Will the lube work with your toys? Are you using condoms and if so, what lube works with them? What will happen if you get lube in your mouth?
You may find that you use a range of lubes depending on the intended use of each. For example, for vaginal sex you may use a silicone lube, a water-based lube on your sex toys, and a desensitising lube for anal sex.
There is a market for oil-based lubricant, particularly in the natural lube market. Some people use cooking oils such as sesame or avocado. The main concern here is knowing what your condoms and toys are made from so that the oil does not damage them, and in turn you, during sex. This article does not discuss oil-based lubricants further.
Water-based vs. silicone lube
Both lubes have their place on the market but are useful for different purposes. Both lubes are safe for use on non-latex condoms.
Water-based lube is generally the safest for most people, especially those with sensitive skin. However, the lube is absorbed quickly by our skin and membranes requiring reapplication. Water-based lube is the best solution for use on sex toys, especially if you are unsure what products the toys are made from. It is easy to get and often less costly than silicone lube.
Silicone lube is not absorbed and therefore lasts longer during sex than water-based lube. Some people prefer the silky feel to the product as opposed to the stickiness sometimes experienced with water-based lube. Silicone lube and any oil-based lube is not suitable for any silicone sex toys. They will deteriorate.
Ingredients that may impact your health
This is a list of common ingredients used in the manufacture of lube, whether water-based or silicone. There are links and the end of this article that provide more detailed information regarding ingredients used in lubes and the potential impact on your health.
This is a non-toxic, natural product. However, it can cause burning or itching for some people.
This is a preservative that can cause dermatitis.
Fragrances can irritate sensitive skin and are not suitable for mucous membranes in the vagina.
This is a non-toxic product but has the potential for causing yeast infections or UTI’s in some women.
Parabens (methylparaben, propylparaben),
While parabens are used in cosmetic products as well as lube, medical practitioners recommend against the use of parabens as they can lead to allergic reactions and tumours.
This petrochemical product has low toxicity but has the potential for causing reactions in some people.
Silicone (Dimethicone, Dimethiconol, Cyclopentasiloxane)
For some people silicone is an endocrine disruptor and has been found present in breast milk.
What do you look for when choosing lube?
As lube contains a range of different ingredients it is difficult to test yourself for potential reactions to a specific ingredient. When choosing a lube consider:
Which lube has the least amount of potentially harmful ingredients? Does the lube contain ingredients that will affect your tissue pH, salt levels, or prove to be endocrine disruptors?
What will you use the lube for? Is it fit for purpose?
How long will the lube last for once open?
Ultimately you want iso-osmotic ingredients in your lube as they do not disrupt healthy bacteria or influence the hydration of cells.
While this information may seem overwhelming and make you wonder if you should use lube at all, the answer is YES! There are more benefits in terms of sexual health safety and pleasure than there are disadvantages. Just do your homework and find the best lubricant solution for you and all of your sexual activities.
Dr Rachelle Elliott is a sex educator with over ten years experience in the areas of sexual health and polyamory. A focus of her work is on self-acceptance and communicating sexual needs.