I recently had a conversation with a friend about the subject of what's euphemistically referred to as "personal" or "intimate" lubricant.
It started when they overheard me talking to my boss about acquiring a new lube-sponsor for one of our events (you can imagine a five-day sex and kink festival for one thousand people goes through quite a bit of lubricant). We were brainstorming companies to approach for sponsorship, and my boss had mentioned that his wife was un-fond of the product from the last company we'd used. He and I agreed that from now on we'd only look at companies that were producing specific types of lube, which is what had caught my friend's attention.
Somewhat shyly they'd asked me "so I take it then that there's more to life than KY?"
As it turned out, they had specific needs, and I was able to help find them an ideal personal lube for their purposes. But the process drove home just how broad the available options for lube has become.
Before we delve headlong into wild and at times whacky world of just what's out there, let's take a few moments to talk about why lube is important.
The first thing to understand is that lube is important. Good lubricant can reduce intimacy related injuries, make it possible to play longer, and there are some kinds of play that are next to impossible without it.
The intimate activity you are getting up to is a large factor in whether or not you need lubricant, how much lubricant you need, and even what kind of lubricant you might prefer.
The first thing to consider when contemplating a lube choice, is what body parts we are looking to bring together. There are some lubes that are unwise to use inside a vagina for instance, while others are unsuited to use with condoms, or have features that you don't need. Matters are further complicated when you add toys into the mix, as the material some toys are made of can absolutely not be exposed to certain kinds of lubricant.
Here's the quick skinny on lube compatibility:
When using latex condoms and gloves it is important to use water-based lubricants. Oil-based lubes will rapidly break down latex, rendering it useless. There is some debate about the safety of polyisoprene and polyurethane condoms with oil-based lubes, but the current consensus seems to be to avoid them. On the other hand, nitrile gloves are generally safe to use with oil based products.
Silicone lubricants should not be used with (many) silicone toys as the lube will rapidly break the toy down, and in ways that could be actively unsafe.
Here are some activities where lube can help smooth things over:
Masturbation - For penile or clitoral stimulation, many people like having anywhere from a drop to a virtual ocean of lubricant to enhance their masturbatory experience.
Insertable Toys - It should go without saying that the use of insertable toys can be greatly facilitated by the right lube. We've already established the need to avoid silicone lube with silicone toys, while pretty much any lube is safe to use with glass, and stone and wood toys have a great deal of variation based on the specific material.
Masturbation Sleeves - Tengas, Fleshlights, and their myriad knockoffs are almost impossible to use without lube. But it's important to be aware that like silicone insertables, silicone and oil-based lubricants may degrade the elastomer used in many masturbation sleeves.
Anal Sex - Sure one can have anal sex without lubricant, but why would you want to? The nice thing about asses is that you can use almost any lube you like. Previous cautions about lube compatibility apply.
Vaginal Sex - While the vagina is generally perceived as self-lubricating there are many reasons why addition lubricant can be beneficial for vaginal sex. First and foremost, not everyone produces all that much if any lubrication of their own for one reason or another. Additionally, the viscosity of one's own lubrication may not be idea, or may not hold up over prolonged play.
Frot - Like anal play, just about every kind of lube out there can be used for frot, and while frot can be done without lube, it's generally not a really good idea.
Oral Sex - Adding a bit of lube to the inside of a condom can really help enhance the sensation of barrier-protected oral sex.
So then, what kinds of lube are out there?
Conventional Water-Based - When many people think of "lube" what they are thinking of is a conventional water-based lube such as KY, Astroglide, or Wet. One of the biggest differences within water-based products is whether or not a lube contains glycerine. Lubes with glycerine may lasts longer, but can increase the chances of a vaginal or penile yeast infection. Beyond that, it's important to be aware that water-based lubes come in a wide range of viscosities from thick gels to very thin liquids. Water-based lubes are safe with all types of toys and for all types of play.
Silicone - Once only a pricey niche product, the last several years have seen a rapid expansion of silicone lube options. Loaded with all sorts of multisyllabic compounds, the big selling point of silicone lubricants are how long lasting they are, as well as being both thinner slicker than most water-based products. Because they don't wash out of the body easily, they are not recommended for vaginal use.
Hybrid - Hybrid lubes combine the ingredients and properties of both water-based and silicone products, resulting in a long-lasting, slick product that still washes away easily. They are still not recommended for use with silicone toys though.
Oil - The two variations one finds in oil-based lube are between thick, dense, and long-lasting products ideal for intensive play such as fisting, and thinner products that may be preferred for masturbation. They are vastly simpler chemically speaking than a silicone lube, while still possessing many of the same characteristics.
Natural Lubes - "Natural" is in, whether it be in clothing, food, office furniture, or personal lubricants. These can run the gamut from coconut oil, beloved by many of my colleagues, to organic seaweed based, and even ones made from royal jelly or all natural botanicals. The big selling point for natural lubes is that the mucosal tissues of the genitals are particularly prone to absorption through contact, and some people want to feel in control of what chemicals and additives they are exposing themselves to.
Special Feature - Sometimes you want a lube that does more than just reduce friction. Here are some of the extras your lube might do for you:
- warming - some people enjoy a bit of spicy heat in their play
- cooling/tingling - cooling and/or tingling lubes provide additional sensations that aren't for everyone
- numbing - these are generally designed to delay orgasm, although they have kinkier uses too
- flavored - most commonly associated with oral sex on female-bodied people, they can also be used to mask the flavor of regular condoms during protected oral-sex with penises
- scented - smell is one of our most powerful sensory pathways, and you can buy everything from fruit scents, to the smell of leather, and even a lube designed to smell like male ejaculate.
Off-Label Products - While we've seen that the range of purpose-designed lubes is vast, human ingenuity when it comes to getting off is vaster still. This means that there are many products out there not designed expressly for intimate pleasure that people have found useful nonetheless. Perhaps none is so iconic in the gay men's world as Crisco, used for anal sex and of course for anal fisting. Also popular for the same purposes is veterinary lubricant, which comes powdered and can be mixed to whatever consistency someone desires. Other products include petroleum oils, food products such as honey, and even all-natural leather conditioner. These products tend to be used because of the associations they bring to an erotic encounter, rather than for their particular suitability as sexual lubricants, so caution is always advised.
We've only scratched the surface of what options are out there in terms of personal lubricant. Rather than seeking out the one perfect lube for you and your partner(s), consider having a selection of different lubes for different activities and moods.
Or, if you find something that works especially well for you, buy in bulk.
img src: "Who Knows What You'll Find When You Ask Questions" by Flickr user Raymond Bryrson