I've seen it at the shop. The glazed look that settles over faces as people stare at a bookcase full of lubricants, not quite sure why there are so many and what the differences are. Often, the most recognized brands- the one's seen at drugstore chains- are picked simply due to the comfort of familiarity, not realizing that what they've got in their hands is the fast food of lube, rather than the healthier more nourishing variety. How can we be blamed? Among the woeful lack of quality sex education, there is no nuanced discussion of our body's natural lubrication system, and absolutely no discussion regarding supplemental sex lubes. As a result, the myths remain that natural lubrication is directly correlated to our levels of arousal, partners will boastfully declare that their partners don't "need" lube, while others apologetically express their desire for lube.
I've busted some of these myths in previous articles (Lube Stigma Part I & Part II), but here's a quick recap:
• The level of vaginal fluid produced is determined not only by level of arousal, but also by the time of month, drying medications (antihistamines, marijuana, etc.), dehydration, age, and our unique biological tendencies.
• Lube is produced during the onset of arousal and not so much during the plateau phase of our arousal cycle. If we enjoy lingering in the plateau phase, we will often be reabsorbing the lube we have just created.
• During PIV sex, a penis will also do its part absorbing that lube. The degree of this is determined by whether a condom is used because many condoms are pre-lubricated and they won't absorb lube through their barrier. If uncovered, the amount of pre-ejaculate also factors into the net lube created. That's right, pre-cum also acts as a natural lubricant, but not all penises produce much pre-cum or sometimes even none at all. Do we question the level of somebody's arousal if they do not produce pre-cum?
• There is a difference between "need" and "prefer". Many women don't necessarily "need" added lubrication, however, sex can still be more pleasurable with it.
In addition to being overwhelmed by the variety of lubes available, many have simply had negative experiences with lubes. This is partly determined by the quality of lube and an individual's unique sensitivities to various ingredients. So I'll try to break it all down here.
A good quality water-based lube most closely resembles our natural lubrication because we are water-based ourselves! It's generally healthier for our bodies, but also absorbs more quickly because our bodies recognize it. Therefore, reapplication is oftentimes required. Water-based lubes are compatible with basically everything: condoms, all sex toys, and is non-staining to sheets.
The operative words are "good quality" lube. Ingredients to be aware of and possibly stay away from include spermicide, parabens, glycerin, artificial fragrances, and sugars.
•Spermicides do more harm than good. They irritate sensitive genital tissues leaving them more vulnerable to infections and diseases.
•Parabens are a known carcinogen.
•While glycerin may make lubes feel slicker and slightly longer lasting, it is a sugar alcohol that may cause yeast infections or other irritations, and it leaves a really annoying tacky residue.
• Artificial fragrances and sugars can irritate our delicate mucous membranes. Sugar attracts all sorts of unfriendly bacteria. Luckily there are some great flavored lubes out there that are sweetened with stevia instead!
Silicone-based lubes are long lasting, don't get tacky, are compatible with condoms, but not all sex toys. A little goes a long way, so if you use too much, it may stain sheets and leave silicone fingerprints on walls, steering wheels, and wherever you may find yourself in the throes of passion. It is great to use in situations where you don't want to have to keep reapplying- such as in the shower. Its upside is also its downside. Because it doesn't flush out quite as quickly, it tends to linger in vaginas and butt cheeks creating slippery thighs and perhaps clogging pores, glands, and attracting bacteria.
There is conflicting information about oil-based lubes. Many people have positive results using high quality oils such as pure coconut oil, but others have reported adverse reactions such as bacterial vaginosis and clogged glands. There is not much research regarding the safety of oils as sex lube. One thing is for certain- they will dissolve latex condoms.
Trying to Conceive (TTC) Lubes
Most lubricants are hostile to sperm. In fact, the vaginal environment, itself, is pretty inhospitable to sperm, generally speaking. This is why during ovulation our bodies often create a particular egg whitey cervical lube that has just the right ph level (sperm loves 7.4) to guide the sperm along in its journey. Kind've like a sperm highway. However, this cervical fluid is frequently not quite enough, or at least not enough for comfortable sexual intercourse. Thus there are several TTC lubes that have been created with sperm friendliness in mind. Usually, they are labeled as such.