Lubricant facts: what parents like you need to know
Do you need help in bed? One of the most basic things to help spice up your sex life are lubricants. Here's what you need to know about lubricants and what's best for you.
Sex is fun and amazing. It’s why we’re here, isn’t that right, ladies and gentlemen? And you know what’s not fun? Drying up. So sometimes we need help from lubricants to make things go smoothly, if you catch my drift. These lubricants can go a long way in helping you out in your sex life.
Lubricants, or lube as we say, help make couples’ sex lives more comfortable when they’re having trouble. Usually, women need it when there’s vaginal dryness, which can be caused by falling estrogen levels at menopause, emotional and psychological factors, or certain medications. It also helps when using condoms, which do not help with vaginal dryness. Finally, let’s not forget it’s also used to have some good old-fashioned fun.
Why we need lubricants
Vaginal dryness is caused by a number of factors like:
- Stress, anxiety, and relationship issues
- Hormonal changes due to contraception, pregnancy, breastfeeding, menstruation
- Medical conditions like diabetes, side effects of chemotherapy, full hysterectomy or immune disorders
- Medications like contraceptive pills, anti-depressants, allergy medications
- Chemical products like washing powders, harsh soaps, feminine sprays or douches, perfumed toilet rolls
- Lack of foreplay (since women need more stimulation than men)
Lubricants also help older men who have erection and arousal problems. Lubrication can intensify men’s pleasure and help erections last longer.
Saliva can be used as a natural lubricant, but you must remember that it is water-based, therefore it can dry out quickly. You must also remember that saliva can contain bacteria if you or your partner haven’t brushed your teeth recently.
Types of lubricants
Former nurse Samantha Evans, now a sex expert and co-owner of online sex toy retailer www.jodivine.com says their best-selling products are often their lubricants.
Not all lubricants are right for you. So you should know which lubricants are appropriate for your body. There are three kinds of lubricants, each with their own pros and cons.
1. Water-based lubricants
Astroglide Liquid, Eros, K-Y Ultragel, Replens Silky Smooth
Water-based lube is the most common, safe for use with latex condoms, and easy to wash off with water and soap. This type of lubricant is the most versatile. It’s safe with silicone sex toys, inexpensive, doesn’t stain, and can be ingested in small amounts during sex. Since our body’s natural lubricants are water-based, this is the type that feels closest to natural lubrication.
Water evaporates quickly, so this type of lubricant is more likely to evaporate than the other types. Drying up quickly after application is an issue, which requires the user to reapply. This frequent reapplication can mess with a couple’s momentum in bed. It also doesn’t work well for sex in water (shower sex, pool sex).
Water-based lubricants may contain irritants, like glycerin (which can cause irritation in some people, usually during anal sex) and parabens, a type of preservative. So check for warnings about potential skin irritants.
2. Silicone-based lubricants
Astroglide Diamond Silicone Gel, Wet Platinum Premium Body Glide
This is the most slippery type of lubricant, so it’s especially effective in non-vaginal intercourse. It also lasts for a long time.
Silicone-based lubricants don’t weaken latex condoms, they work well in water, and they don’t evaporate as easily as water-based lubricants.
Many brands do not have potentially irritating ingredients like glycerin. But check the ingredients to make sure.
This type of lubricant can damage silicone sex toys (as it’s likely to solidify on the toy). Some brands also leave a sticky residue even after it’s washed off.
3. Oil-based lubricants
Baby oil, unscented massage oil, aloe, coconut oil, jojoba, olive oil
Oil-based lube is a good choice for women who are sensitive to ingredients in lubricants based on water or silicone. Oil-based lubricants make sex easier in water. It’s also naturally moisturising, and lasts longer than the other types of lube. There’s a silky-smooth quality to it, as it is thicker and creamier in texture, making it last longer during sex. It’s also great for masturbation.
When using oil-based lubricants, Castellanos advises “a little goes a long way.” So no need to use too much or reapply too often.
This type of lubricant cannot be used with latex condoms as it weakens latex, though it’s okay to use with polyurethane condoms. One big caveat is certain oils (like baby oil and petroleum jelly) can increase the risk of urinary or vaginal infections. What’s more, it can also stain sheets.
4. Petroleum-based lubricants
It’s worth mentioning petroleum-based lubricants, but only because it’s something to be avoided. It can destroy condoms and latex products. It’s difficult to wash off and can cause irritation by changing the pH of the vagina. This can lead to yeast infections.
Call for natural
Apart from infections, there are other things about lubricants that are a cause for concern. For example, some commercial lubricants contain ingredients that can cause irritation and allergic reactions. This is difficult to avoid; there will always be different reactions to different people.
In recent years, there has been a call for natural lubricants. Although the term “natural” is debatable. There’s homemade, store-bought and organic. And there are products that simply have FDA-safe chemicals. All of these products fly under the banner of “natural.”
According to licensed psychiatrist and NYU professor Dr. Madeleine M. Castellanos, aka the Sex MD, what you want is a lube with the healthiest ingredients and the lowest number of ingredients.
“You don’t want to put synthetic stuff into your very sensitive mucosal membranes because everything gets absorbed through there,” she says. “You want something that’s thin that doesn’t create a reaction in you.”
Castellanos may be speaking of the vagina but people should take care of the anus in the same way.
Some lubricants contain ingredients that may not work for some people. There are “numbing” lubricants (ex. Anal-ese, Climax Control) which contain benzocaine, a topical anaesthetic. Then there are “warming lubricants” which contain menthol or capsaicin, the chemical that gives hot peppers their heat.
Ingredients of lubricants
There are some lubricants that contain fragrances or flavouring ingredients that can irritate sensitive skin. Some of these potential irritants are the following:
- Chlorhexidine (an antibacterial agent)
- Propylene glycol (helps prevent some solutions from freezing quickly)
- Glycerin (often found in lubricants, but can irritate anal mucosa)
- Parabens, a group of preservatives (often listed as methy-, butyl-, ethyl- and propyl-paraben)
“These tender tissues absorb chemicals and ingredients more easily that our outer skin layer,” she says. Castellanos warns people against lubricants with minty, “warming,” and “numbing” qualities.
“The danger with these is that because they make the area less sensitive, it may be more difficult to know if you are engaging in any action that may be causing physical damage,” she says. “When the tissues are numb, it’s much more difficult to identify irritation or chafing and could put one at risk for tearing if the action gets too rough.”
Now, you can find out if you’re sensitive to a product by applying just a tiny bit of it on the inside of your elbow. Wait a day and see if there’s redness. If there is, then you should probably avoid it. Any unusual reaction to a lubricant is a cause for concern, and if it persists, you should probably talk to your doctor.
There’s also glycerine, which people should avoid “because that’s sugar that bacteria can feed on for a yeast infection,” says Castellanos.
Different strokes for different folks
Castellanos reminds everyone that your choice of lubricant depends on your “physiology and your happiness in using it.”
She also says that for women, “not everyone has the same lubrication every single day or during every single sexual encounter.”
“It could be dehydration, it could be anxiety, it could be expectations the person might or might not see you in a certain way, even allergy medications — all those things could affect lubrication,” Castellanos says.
Dispel the idea that lubricants are for kinksters or old people. It’s not just a crutch for people with difficulties in bed, it’s also something that can increase pleasure that’s already there. So keep it handy. Keep it with your condoms and toys. Carry some with you. You never know when you’re going to need it.
“Do what you can to increase your pleasure — because that’s the whole goal,” she reminds us.
Recommended natural lubricants
1. Aloe Cadabra
Photo via Aloecadabra.com
Aloe Cadabra is an all-natural aloe-based lubricant, a favourite of Dr. Castellanos. It’s made of 95% aloe (used to soothe burns and moisturise skin). It was also cleared by the FDA, something that cannot be said with most “organic”-labeled products.
Active ingredients: vitamin E, xanthan, citric acid, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate (both preservatives recognized by the FDA as safe), and organic vanilla planifolia concentrate.
2. Sliquid H20
Photo via Sliquid.com
A water-based lube with no parabens and 100% vegan-friendly, with no flavouring or scents. It has a simple ingredient list.
Active ingredients: purified plant water, plant cellulose, cyamopsis, potassium sorbate, and citric acid.
Photo via Stayswetlonger.com
Castellanos calls the silicone-based lube “very high quality without any noxious chemicals.” It also has water-based and flavoured varieties.
Active ingredients: dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, dimethiconol, phenyl trimethicone (the first four are derivatives of silicone); vanillyl butyl ether, and mentha piperita (peppermint) extract.
4. Isabel Fay
Screengrab via Amazon.com
It’s a top-selling and well-reviewed water-based lube on Amazon. One reviewer said, “It made the toys’ insert super easy. No issue with friction or anything.”
Active ingredients: purified water, propanediol, citric acid, hydroxyethylcellulose, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, and xanthan gum.
Screengrab via Amazon.com
This water-based lubricant is popular for ease of use and comfort. If you like flavoured-lubricants though, it maybe not for you as it’s literally a tasteless lube.
Active ingredients: water, organic aloe vera, leaf juice (reconstituted), vegetable glycerin, propanediol, carrageenan, sodium hyaluronate, (food-grade) potassium sorbate, (food-grade) sodium benzoate, and gluconolactone.
Photo via Organicglide.com
It has a very simple and minimal ingredient-list, and is a great solution to menopausal dryness because it’s extra thick and sticky.
Active ingredients: olus oil, olive fruit oil, argania spinosa kernel oil, and pichia/resveratrol ferment extract.
It’s a natural water-based lubricant without petrochemicals, glycerin, parabens, and other questionable ingredients. It doesn’t leave a greasy residue and is easy to clean.
Coconu is a USDA-certified lubricant, not tested on animals, edible, and hypoallergenic. It has two types, water-based or coconut-oil-based. The ingredients are different depending on the type you choose, but are always filled with certified organic ingredients.
This one’s all-natural, pH-balanced, and eco-friendly. It mimics the body’s natural lubricant, and is made with the extract coming from the vines of the kiwi fruit. It’s smooth, moisturising, and great for sensitive skin. Sylk is also compatible with condoms and toys, and flexible in any situation.
Risks around lubricants
In 2014, an Indiana University study revealed that 65% of women have used lubricants to make sex more comfortable, more pleasurable, or both. So lubricants are common, but there are still studies that question some products’ safety.
The conventional wisdom around the use of lubricants is that lubricants can reduce the chances of spreading sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Lubricants make the vaginal (or anal) area more slippery, lowering the risk of dryness and tiny tears/abrasions that can cause the transmission of infectious diseases.
However, a 2012 report in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases revealed that men and women who used lubricants for anal intercourse were more likely to test positive for gonorrhea or chlamydia than those who had anal sex without a lubricant. The report’s authors suggested that lubricants may have caused inflammation in the anus, raising the risk of STDs.
In another study in 2014, researchers found that there are some lubricants that alter the pH balance of the vagina, increasing the risk of vaginal infections.
Take comfort, though, that none of these studies definitively establishes that lubricants directly cause any kind of infection, but they do give importance to the use of contraceptives to prevent STDs.
Mindful use of lubricants
People should also remember that frequent use of lubricant can damage genital skin cells and this, in turn, increases the risk of STDs. We’re not trying to scare you — we want to make sure that everyone uses lubricants with care and awareness.
There’s a phenomenon that Michael Castleman, M.A. describes happens in the application of lubricants called “osmolality.” Osmolality is the measure of the molecular concentration of ingredients.
Still confused? Here’s an example. Most lubricants have “osmolalites” that are substantially greater than the cells they’re applied to. Basically, this disparity between lubricant and skin can cause genital and rectal cells to lose water and shrivel up. This drying up can cause cell damage and increase the risk of STDs.
It’s also worth noting that the vagina has a wide variety of micro-organisms that help keep it healthy. Some lubricants with high-osmolality can kill these micro-organisms, making the vagina susceptible to STDs.
A little help won’t hurt
We still need more in-depth research to establish any dangerous effects caused by lubricants. Depending on any underlying medical conditions, lubricants are generally safe. And they’re generally safe as long as people use them properly.
The bottom line is lubricants are good for assisting with vaginal dryness and reducing friction. But since this is still something you put in your body, you should read the directions for use and check the list of ingredients.
Lubricants are widely available these days. They come in different packages, making them easy to carry around and apply whenever and wherever you want it. As a final tip, just squirt just small amount on your hand, warm it, and apply.
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