PSA: Lube Edition – The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
Alternatively titled, Good Lubes And Where To Find Them
I know I mention it in my posts constantly – but y’all know how important lube is, right? I don’t care if it’s alone or with someone else – everyone could use a solid dose of lube in just about every sexual situation. Past that – did you know lube shopping can get just as complicated as sex toy shopping? Cuz I fuckin didn’t. For a really long time. Lube in concept? Great. Some lube in practice? Horrible. (Especially if you’re like me, and have a laundry list of sensitivities and allergies even outside of sex-related products!)
Those of you that aren’t sold on the importance of lube itself: hear me out. There’s pretty much no such thing as too much lubrication with any type of penetration. (And it helps other stuff feel even better, too!)
In case you live under a rock – as far as natural lubrication goes – some folks struggle with producing enough. Regardless of how turned on they might be. (In the case of both pre-ejaculate & vaginal “wetness”.) It can vary wildly from body to body as well, things like hormones, stress & even the medication you may or may not be taking can impact it. I personally have a decent amount of anxiety surrounding sex at some times and…that’s not conducive to producing enough natural lubrication either . (Even if I am super into it.)
& If we’re talking about anal – no one’s body produces any type of lubrication in that area. It’s absolutely required that you outsource assistance with lubrication there. (And regardless of where you’re sticking anything – spit sucks. It dries your body out! Don’t even try to fight me on that. You can reactivate some water-based lubes with spit, but that’s about it.)
No seriously, lube is awesome. Period.
Lube isn’t just for people that struggle with producing their own, either. If you’ve somehow made it this far in your life having unlubricated sexual and masturbatory encounters, you might think sex is great – but imagine if it was even better. (With little to no extra effort!) Lube isn’t just for the receiving end either, it can feel great externally on all sorts of bits. (If you haven’t had a handjob with lube you’re seriously missing out.) I’ve had multiple friends make a point to tell me that they “don’t use” or “don’t need” lube like it was some kind of brag – and I for one am fucking horrified by that. I typically don’t have any huge issues producing natural lubrication but like – why not use lube? What’s the big deal?
I’ve had partners that honestly would get miffed with me when I went to reach for lube. (First off, that’s a fucking red flag, if someone’s mad about something that makes sex easier or comfier for you they can leave.) My affinity for lube has been met with “do I not turn you on enough?” plenty of times – and I just want to throw it out there that there’s nothing weird about using, or straight up needing lube. (And oftentimes it has nothing to do with “not being aroused”!) Why would more wetness be offensive? I don’t get it. Why is it a hangup for people? I use lube when I masturbate for fucks sake, it’s just good to have on hand – partnered sex or not.
There’s pretty much a million and one ways you can benefit from using lube.
In case you need me to twist your arm – lube reduces friction, so you’ve got less chances of injuring yourself or a partner. (Especially if you’re a “marathon sex” person! Lube helps stretch out the time period between “second round” and “rubbed completely raw”.) Less friction means if you’re using barriers like condoms – you lower the risk of them breaking, tearing, or getting “stuck” anywhere. If you’re looking for kicks, you can even work lube application into your foreplay routine. (A warm hand and cold lube? Might not be your thing, but that type of temperature play can be exquisite.) Hell, it’s multi-purpose & sometimes it’s just handy to have it around when you need to get a bullet vibe out of a toy.
(Fuze Tango, I’m looking at you!)
I’m not sure what the fuss is with thinking lube is a bad thing or something only “some” people need or use, but here we are. When I started working on this piece I asked my partner their preferences as far as lube goes out of curiosity and they literally said spit. Pretty sure my vagina recoiled in horror.
Anyways, if you’re not producing as much lubrication as you’d like – or you just want to have some extra fun, store bought is fine! (And I encourage it!) Now let’s get on with this guide.
(Like all of my guides – this is long one, so if you want to jump – feel free. Click here to learn about types of lube, compatibility & things to consider, things to avoid, and here for the bottom line.)
Note: This post uses affiliate links – meaning I earn a commission on items purchased through links provided on my website with no added cost to you. I am not paid for mentioning them and as always, my opinions are my own.
The Good: Types of lube, & Why that matters.
• Water-based Lubes:
Starting with the easy stuff. Water-based, an all-purpose lubes of all trades! Water-based lubricants are safe with just about everything sex toy-wise, and safe in every orifice. They’re also safe for any & all types of condoms & barriers! What can’t a good water-based lube do? (Well, you can’t use them in the shower or any other water-filled romps, but that’s about it! It’ll just get rinsed away & be entirely pointless.) It’s also super easy to clean up and doesn’t typically stain surfaces.
Said as someone that frequently topples over lube bottles or forgets they have a lube coated hand immediately after grabbing a soft surface.
The main gripe with water-based lubes is that they don’t stay wet forever – but you can “reactivate” them so to speak with saliva or water (pretty handy mid-sex, I still don’t like spit though.) or just reapply. In the past “Water-based lube is for vaginas, silicone lube is for anal sex” was a thought process that I saw thrown around a lot – but it’s not really true. There’s even water-based lubes formulated to be thicker specifically for anal! (My favorite is Sliquid Sassy – for the record. Regardless of orifice it’s got a great texture and stays where you put it.) My other top pick for water based is Sliquid H20, though it’s not anal-specific.
However – just because water-based lubes are “generally safe”, they can still be chock full of problematic ingredients & irritants. (More on those in a minute.)
• Silicone & Hybrid Lubes:
Fun fact – the lubricants typically prepackaged with most condoms are silicone! Silicone lubes (unlike water based) are water-resistant and tend to be ultra-slippy & long lasting in comparison. (They’re not as easily absorbed by your body as water based lubes are.) Think silk sheets, but for your bits. Smooth, bitch. Silicone is both a good choice for anal where you need all the lubrication you can get – and play in the shower/bath/etc because it won’t get rinsed away like water based lube would. Great for condom-clad sex, ABS plastic, metal, & glass toys. Or your fingers, if you want to be extra.
The downside? You shouldn’t use silicone lubes with silicone toys
(some companies claim it’s okay, I’d rather use a hybrid than risk ruining a toy!) and it’s long-lasting effects means there’s a little more cleanup involved. (It can stain your sheets and linger on hands and surfaces – you should already be washing up properly, but c’mon now.)
Hybrid lubes are just what they sound like – a fusion of both water based & silicone lubes. Generally seen as “safe” for silicone toys – but your mileage may vary. (Always good to double check toy details!) The silicone content in hybrid lubes tends to be under 12%, and you can always patch test on a toy! Okay for bits & condoms, and compatible with most random objects! Best of both worlds, babes! (Sliquid Silk is a great option, as is Wicked Simply Hybrid Jelle – which is a bit thicker.)
• Oil-based & Natural Lubes
Usually, oil-based lubes are ultra-slick – and can be a bit thicker than water-based. Like silicone lubes, they stay slippery until you wash them off. A lot of oil-based lubes are marketed for anal use for the slip factor! (Which also makes them great for masturbating if you have a penis.) But on the flipside – not all oil-based lubes are built for vaginal use! (I’ll come back to that.) Typically oil-based lubes are safe on sex toys regardless of material. Though it’s difficult to fully clean off oil-based lubes and that can prove problematic for toys with hidden crevices and texture.
The complicated part? Oil-based lubes typically aren’t condom safe. If you’re using latex or polyisoprene items (condoms, gloves, even some sex toys) oil can & will break them down. Polyurethane or lambskin condoms are safe to use with oil-based lubes, but of course they’re not always the most accessible – and you should always double check. (I’m allergic to latex, take it from me.) Like silicone, oil-based lubes will stain your sheets – so be careful!
If you’re fluid-bonded with your partner – & on the sensitive side, I trust The Butters. Taking the guesswork out of oil-based – their lube is designed for skin-to-skin, and formulated to be safe in whichever orifice you like.
Oil-based lubes part two: “Natural oils”
I’m required to mention coconut oil here – it’s “technically safe” and some people swear by it. (An ex of mine used coconut oil for just about everything in their life. I think we all know at least one person like that.) However, it’s an oil – so still not latex compatible & there’s mixed signals on how it can affect your body.
(Mine doesn’t like it much.) Worth a shot – but might not be great for everyone. Like y’know, most things in the world. (If you’re looking to use other household oils like olive oil as lube, click here to jump to the next section.)
Coconut oil is fairly comodogenic, but I’ve seen the opposite said for orifice-skin. Wow, gross phrasing – sorry! DangerousLilly has some great resources on using coconut oil as lube – it’s just something I don’t have much experience with so I can’t confidently speak on it past “I’m not really a fan.” However, I do know that it can be great as a massage oil – and it’s usually pretty accessible!
Now, if we’ve covered coconut oil – why are “natural” lubes in this section?
Despite some of them being similar in look & texture to average water-based lubes, natural lubes might include natural oils & other plant derived gels & liquids as ingredients – so they’re here. Plus, I run into people wanting oil based lubes because they sound more “natural” – or they have sensitivities, and some natural lubes can be the perfect center of that Venn-diagram.
There’s also less guess work with commercially available natural lubes than with oil based as far as where they can be used. Plus, there’s plenty of natural options that are safe for whatever type of penetration you’re into. (Instead of having to buy multiple lubes for multiple orifices!) Aloe & carrageenan are common ingredients – and a lot of natural lubes are still safe for condoms and toys. Of course, that’s depending on the brand – always check!
Besides The Butters – Sliquid Organics Aloe Based gel (they have multiple options in that line – the bare bones one is my favorite) P.S. I Lube You & Good Clean Love are great natural lube options. If you’re a coconut oil fan – Coconu might be up your alley. I bought the organic Sliquid accidentally years ago & it immediately became a favorite.
The Bad: Compatibility & The Flipside of Oil-Based Lubes, Household Oils, and Petroleum Oils
Just when you thought it couldn’t get more complicated – in addition to the condom thing, oil based lubes can also just irritate the hell out of your skin. (Depending on how sensitive you are. Again, comodogenic.) I mentioned that not all oil-based lubes are good for vaginas, & that’s because they take longer to “clean out” of your body compared to other types of lube. That makes them great at disrupting pH, and welcoming yeast infections. Fun! Classic oil & water antics. This of course depends on the lube – but is definitely something to look out for & check if you plan on using it in or near vaginas. (Delicate ecosystem, or whatever.)
Now what about things like baby oil, olive oil, Vaseline, Crisco, and butter? Y’know. Household stuff. I don’t class those as lubes – just oily stuff that you really shouldn’t be using for penetration in the first place. Coconut oil gets a pass- but that’s it! That’s not what they were designed for! Things like baby oil can be fine in a pinch for external things like massages but for the most part they aren’t a great idea & shouldn’t go in your body. Petroleum oil-based products like Vaseline in general aren’t a good idea for lubes, either.
More Notes On Lube Compatibility:
As always, this is a general rule but not always the case – but water based is usually the “safest” bet if you can’t be assed to check. (And you’re double checking, aren’t you?)
I had a friend ask about a (silicone) toy they had – and the brand that made it saying it was only compatible with that brands lube. That’s of course a red flag to me, because typically “don’t store this with…” and “don’t use this with…” sentiment with silicone is because a company is lying about the materials they’re using. As long as you’re not going against standard lube compatibility (like the above chart) “brand” of lube shouldn’t be a factor – and seems to just be a way for a company to get more money out of their customers. (Especially with how frequently false information about toy and lube safety goes around, sometimes you just don’t know any better and it does seem like a good idea to trust a brand – they’re the experts, right?)
Of course – listening to a company is usually a “good” thing – but I’d still recommend doing your own research. The exception to the “only branded lube is compatible” rule is that some toys with internal plumbing were designed to be used with their brands lube. So, you might not get the same effect with a different one. If someone claims a silicone toy will be rendered useless by using anything other than their lube? Run.
The Ugly: Where lube gets (even more) complicated
Things To Keep In Mind, Red Flags, And Things That Shouldn’t Go Near Your Orifices
• Be aware of pH!
Just when you thought there wasn’t enough to keep track of – yup, pH comes into play. (And doesn’t just apply to people with vaginas!) For vaginal use – average pH is between 3.8 and 4.5, and varies depending on hormone levels or where someone is in their cycle. (During menopause – pH can even have “normal” levels closer to 6-7!) Anal pH is typically between 6-7.
Why does this matter? A lube with too acidic of a pH (for any orifice) can lead to stinging and general discomfort wherever you put it. (Even if it’s a lube you typically like, hormone levels change!) For vaginas – above 4.5 (or whatever your highest average is – if that’s something you know off the top of your head! I sure don’t!) can open the door to bacterial vaginosis. Sadly – a lot of the commercially available lubes available in drugstores & the like have a pH way higher than 4.5.
Luckily, BadVibes.org went through the trouble of charting the pH of a bunch of widely available water based lubes.
Of course, that’s only water based lubes – and not every brand that exists. But seriously, good to know. (If you can do a quick Google of your favorite, it’s worth a peek!) As far as lubes I like go – The Butters Original has a pH of 4.1, Sliquid Sassy has a pH of 5 – and H20 comes in at 5.2. I can’t find exact numbers on P.S. I Lube You – but Queen V says all of their products “have a healthy pH of 4.5 to 5”.
• Flavored lubes:
This isn’t an “overall bad” rating but you really shouldn’t be using flavored lubes for any type of action involving a vagina unless you’re sure of what’s in them. Why? Do I have to tell you that sugar is bad for vaginas? (Yeast, y’all – fucking yeast!) This goes under “The Ugly” – because flavored lubes that are totally safe for penetration & vulvas exist – but you have to be careful and double check ingredient lists. (I know I keep saying that, but it’s important!)
Some sweeteners to avoid in flavored lubes include sugar (obvious), saccharin (or “sodium saccharin”) & aspartame. Sugar is super fuel for bacteria, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame & saccharin are still huge yeast-feeders. So what’s “safe” as a sweetener? Stevia (natural and non-fermentable, suck it – yeast!) & xylitol (synthetic, safe for diabetics, also combats yeast!) are typically fine if you don’t have an allergy. Some flavored lubes don’t actually use a sweetener at all so you don’t have to worry about it as long as other ingredients don’t throw up any red flags.
Glycerin is a sugar alcohol – so you can guess what I’m going to mention next. (Yeah, it’s yeast again. I’m sorry! It had to be said!) Too much of it can sometimes lead to bacterial growth, yeast infections, and UTIs. (Whether you have a vagina or you’re sleeping with someone with one!) Hard pass. It doesn’t mean that every single person will immediately end up with a yeast infection moments after touching lube with glycerin in it, but it’s a risk I’d rather avoid. (There’s also a decent amount of debate revolving around glycerin in lube – but if it can be avoided, what’s the point in using something that “might” cause an issue?)
Every time I’m gifted lube by somebody else, I end up with glycerin as the first or second ingredient. And I might not read the ingredients at first, might just be like “Oh cool, a gift, I’ll use this!” – and then I’m wondering why my body’s out of whack. Even though it’s deemed safe and it can be okay for other people…. I’m not going to recommend it. It’s so easy to find lube without glycerin now! (So stop buying Shibari brand off of Amazon, please!)
If you’re noticing an issue with UTIs or yeast infections – it’s always a good idea to check the ingredients on your lube, maybe you’re a bit sensitive to it as well.
Parabens are types of chemicals used as preservatives in plenty of self care products, common ones include methylparaben, ethylparaben, & propylparaben. Usually easy to spot – seen as they tend to end in “paraben”. Parabens have been linked to cancer risk, hormone disruption, and good old fashioned skin irritation. (Some people are legitimately allergic to parabens!) Though there’s mixed studies & plenty of companies will claim “there’s nothing wrong with parabens” – but like glycerin, there’s enough good lube options out there that don’t include them, so why bother?
Lubes without preservatives will of course spoil faster – but hey, if I’m using handfuls of something it’s usually not too hard to use up before that window closes.
In addition to petroleum based products like Vaseline & baby oil, there’s plenty of other petrochemicals that weasel their way into lube ingredients lists and invite bacteria. Ethylenes, propylene glycol (propanediol), pentylene glycol, benzene, & benzoic acid are common ones to look out for.
I see them most often in more affordable & accessible drugstore lubes. Astroglide, Durex branded lubes, KY Jelly, and Wet lubes all have one or more of these petrochemicals! (Along with other offenders on this list!) Affordability shouldn’t mean having to compromise and use less-than-ideal ingredients. (If you’re looking for drugstore options – give P.S. I Lube You a shot!)
• Numbing lubes & ingredients:
Most commonly benzocaine or lidocaine – y’know, the stuff in Oragel and some “pre-tattoo” items. I see numbing lubes most frequently marketed for anal – and it’s essentially the worst idea I’ve ever fucking heard. Discomfort & pain is a signal from your body that something is wrong – not that you should grab the Anal-Eaze and “try harder”. (Some anal toys are literally packaged with these lubes. Avoid buying from companies like that if you can.) If you’re having issues with pain – start slower, use more lube – and reapply liberally. Don’t shove a desk lamp up your ass because being numb made you feel like you could accomplish anything – the aftermath just won’t be worth it.
If you want a lube that makes anal “easier” – try something made specifically for it, like Sliquid Sassy – or silicone & oil-based lubes, they’re typically thicker & slicker. (Depending on condom compatibility & other factors, of course.)
• “Tightening” gels
Not always technically a lube on their own, but absolutely worth a mention in this section. I’ve seen “Tight Anal & Vaginal Tightening Water-Based Lube” sold at both Spencers & Amazon (who are already on my shit list…) for what it’s worth. There’s tons of these products available – and as a whole they’re bullshit, and y’know – not safe. What most of these gels do is dry out your mucous membranes – causing more friction during sex. (That friction can of course, cause micro tears and leave you vulnerable to infection. Not hot!) Typically paired with ingredients that cause temporary swelling – y’know, also by inflaming and irritating your orifices. Hard pass, bud.
If you’re concerned about your pelvic floor & want to strengthen or tone it (which can make sex feel “better” – and helps with bladder control.) just do fucking kegels. A bonus of that is if you get kegel balls or similar – they can be pretty damn stimulating on their own.
Anyways, here’s a reminder of course that the majority of talk about “tightness” is pretty much bullshit – and anyone trying to perpetuate the myth that “tOo MuCh SeX WiLl MaKe YoU lOoSe” can kick rocks. (Also, a lot of that “tightness”? Typically comes from someone not being aroused or relaxed enough for penetration. Yeah. Yikes.)
What’s the takeaway here?
• Use lube, damnit.
• Check your ingredients.
Easy peasy. I know this isn’t the most in-depth, big giant huge list including every lube ingredient known to man – but I hope it takes some of the guesswork out. If an ingredient “sounds weird” – look it up! If you start having issues? Yup, check the ingredients again and see if there’s any frequent flyer irritants included. Looking for more? Check out BadVibes.org’s section on lube! Lube seems like an afterthought to most – but I think it deserves its own spotlight just as much as “fun” things like sex toys do.
As far as personal recommendations go – I trust Sliquid with my life & recommend them to most everyone – if you’re overwhelmed by options. Past that, just know there’s no shame in lubing well, and lubing often! Got it?
Do you have a favorite brand, or type of lube? Have a sensitivity or know something else people should avoid? I’d love to hear it in the comments – catch you later!