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Personal Lubricant 101: How to Choose and Use Lube

There's a common misconception that personal lubricant (aka lube) is only for women having trouble producing vaginal lubricant on their own after menopause. While it's a great option in that scenario, that kind of thinking ignores the many benefits that lubricant offers for people of all ages and genders.

If you're on the fence about whether you should use lube—or you just don't know where to start—read on for a primer on the wonderful world of personal lubricant.

Short answer: How to use lubricant

To use lubricant, apply it to skin where there may be friction (or sex toy) during foreplay and before any penetration. Use enough to get things feeling smooth and slippery. You'll notice pretty quickly that the decreased friction can have a really enjoyable impact on the sensations you feel during foreplay and sex.

A few things to consider when you're shopping for lubricants:

  • Water-based lubricants are the easiest to wash off your skin and fabric and are safe to use with condoms.

  • Silicone-based lubricants can be longer-lasting and are safe to use with condoms.

  • Oil-based lubricants aren't safe to use with latex condoms because they can damage the latex and increase the risk of the condom breaking.

Silicone-based and oil-based lubricants tend to stay on the skin longer, so they don't need to be reapplied as often (if at all).

What is personal lubricant?

Personal lubricant is a product specifically designed to decrease friction during sexual activity. It comes in the form ofs a gel or liquid, and it mimics the natural lubricant the vagina makes when you're aroused. You can use personal lubricant during penetrative sex with a partner as well as for mutual or solo masturbation.

By decreasing friction, you can reduce irritation, make penetration more comfortable, and make sexual activity more enjoyable.

All personal lubricants are considered "class II medical devices" by the Food and Drug Administration, meaning companies have to prove that their lubricant is safe and effective before selling it in the United States.

What are the different types of lubricant?

There are three main types of personal lubricant:

  • Water-based lubricant: This kind of lubricant feels smooth, but it may turn a little sticky as it's absorbed by your skin. It's safe to use with all types of condoms and silicone sex toys and easy to wash off of skin and fabric. However, it can evaporate quickly, so you may need to reapply.

  • Silicone-based lubricant: Silicone-based lubricant has the added bonus of lasting longer because it absorbs slower into the skin. It's harder to wash off than water-based lubricant, but still safe to use with condoms. Avoid using silicone-based lubricant with silicone sex toys because it could break down the toy.

  • Oil-based lubricant: Oil-based lubricant feels oily. It's long-lasting, but hard to wash off skin or fabric. You can use this lubricant with silicone sex toys, but it can degrade latex, polyurethane, and polyisoprene condoms and increase the risk of breakage.

Can you use coconut oil as a lubricant? If you prefer using natural products, you may consider using an organic oil, such as coconut oil. There's not a lot of research on how safe this is. However, if you do use coconut oil as a lubricant, make sure you choose one that doesn't have any sugars or additives, as those may lead to yeast or other vaginal infections.

The full story: How to use lubricant effectively

Here's the good news about lubricant: there are so many ways to use it, and most of them are correct. Everyone has unique preferences on how much to use, but a good rule is to use enough to make the area slippery—be it your skin, your partner's skin, a vibrator, or other sex toy.

Pro Tip: Be careful when pouring. And if you're afraid of staining your sheets (or couch, or wherever), you may want to use water-based lubricant or put a towel down before sex or play.

If you're having penis-in-vagina sex, you can apply lube to your genitals, your partner's penis, or both. You can put it on your hand first or drip it directly onto your vulva (aka your labia and clitoris) or your partner's penis. Take some time to rub it in before penetration.

For penis-in-anus sex, you'll want to put the lubricant on your partner's penis as well as your anus. Unlike the vagina, the anus doesn't produce any lubricant on its own. To maximize your comfort and pleasure, be liberal with your lubricant during any anal play and reapply as needed.

You can also use lubricant when you're masturbating, whether you're using a sex toy or your fingers. (This also applies to when you or your partner are using your hands to pleasure each other). Depending on what's easiest, you can apply the lubricant to your fingers, the sex toy, or your genitals.

Water-based lubricant should be easy to wipe off your skin with a wet cloth. For silicone or oil-based lubricants, you may need to use soap and water.

How to use lubricant with condoms

Many condoms come pre-lubricated, but that doesn't mean you can't add a little extra lubrication to the outside of the condom. In fact, using water or silicone-based lubricants can help reduce the chance of a condom breaking due to friction. Oil-based lubricants can break down latex and increase the risk of breakage.

You can also try putting a couple of drops of lubricant on your partner's penis before applying the condom. A little bit of lubricant may enhance their pleasure, but too much may increase the chance of the condom slipping off during sex.

What kinds of lubricant should you avoid?

When you're picking out a lubricant, it's a good idea to go with one that the FDA has deemed safe for use around the genitals. Basically, this just means that you should stick with products specifically marketed as personal lubricants.

The vagina and anus are mucous membranes, meaning that they can absorb whatever you put in them. Using the wrong products as lubricant could lead to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and general irritation.

Lubricants that are scented or edible (meaning they contain sugar) may increase your chance of getting a vaginal infection or UTI after sex. You should also avoid using any oil that contains sugars or additives, such as certain coconut oils.

If you're prone to urinary tract infections, you should try to pee after sex. This can help lower your risk of infections by flushing out any bacteria that may have gotten into your urethra during sex.

If any lubricant causes irritation, pain, or an allergic reaction, stop using it immediately and wash it off your skin.

Why should you use lubricant in the first place?

Vaginal lubrication is an important part of sexual desire and arousal. It plays a big role in how much satisfaction and enjoyment you get from sex or masturbation. Your body creates natural vaginal lubricant when you feel aroused, but many things—aside from how turned on you are—can affect how much you produce. These can include:

  • Age

  • Metabolism

  • Hormone levels

  • How much you exercise

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • Certain medications

  • Dehydration

Note: Some types of hormonal birth control, such as combined oral contraceptives, may lead to vaginal dryness. Personal lubricant can help with this. Talk to your healthcare provider if your birth control is causing unwanted side effects.

Unlike the vagina, the anus doesn't produce natural lubrication. That's why it's so important to use a personal lubricant during anal play, whether you're using fingers, a penis (even if you're using a lubricated condom), or a sex toy.

Without enough lubrication, sex can be uncomfortable or even painful. The skin-on-skin (or skin-on-sex-toy) friction can cause irritation, chafing, and microtears in the skin. If you're using condoms, this friction can increase the chances of the condom breaking during sex. Plus, a lack of lubrication can make it harder to orgasm.

What are the benefits of using lubricant?

There are a lot of reasons that people love using lubricant. Some of the main benefits are that it can:

  • Enhance sexual pleasure and satisfaction

  • Reduce friction, irritation, and discomfort during sexual activity

  • Lubricate condoms and make them less likely to break

  • Make anal sex more comfortable and enjoyable

Personal lubricant can be a great solution when natural lubricant isn't cutting it and you want to feel wetter during sex. But that's not the only reason to use it. Many people use lubricant to enhance pleasure rather than avoid discomfort (though it can help with both). Even if you're not concerned about vaginal dryness, you may be pleasantly surprised at the difference a little extra lubricant can make.

Are there any disadvantages to using lubricant?

Fortunately, there aren't too many disadvantages to using lubricant. You may need to try out different brands and types before you find your favorite. There are a few things however you should keep in mind when it comes to lube:

  • Water-based lubricant can be absorbed quickly, and you may need to reapply multiple times

  • Oil and silicone lubricants can be messy and hard to wash off. They may also stain fabric.

  • Oil-based lubricants should not be used with condoms, as they can make latex condoms weaker, increasing the chance of leaks or breakage.

  • Flavored lubricants and lubricants with glycerin may cause infections.

  • Some types of lubricants, such as scented lubricants, may increase your risk of UTIs. You can help lower this risk by peeing after sex.

What to consider when choosing a lubricant

Here are a few considerations that can help you narrow down your search:

  • If you're planning on using lubricant with silicone sex toys, try to avoid silicone-based lubricants because they could damage the silicone in the toy.

  • If you're planning a trip or want to be spontaneous, you may prefer a lubricant that comes in small bottles or single-use pouches that you can carry in a purse or bag. With an existing birth control prescription from The Pill Club, you can order single-use sachets of water-based lube delivered straight to your door.

  • If your skin is sensitive to scented lotions, soaps, or other products, you should consider the possibility that your vagina will also be sensitive. The same goes for your partner. Water-based lubricants may be less likely to cause reactions, but everyone's skin is different. If you're worried about irritation, try testing the lubricant on a small patch of skin before using it liberally.

  • If you're trying to get pregnant, you may want to stick with fertility-friendly lubricants designed to help sperm survive on their journey to the egg. Other lubricants may harm sperm and make it harder to get pregnant.

Where to buy lubricant

There are many places to shop for personal lubricant and the experience should be comfortable (and fun!).

You'll probably find you have a preference for a certain place to buy lubricant, just as you have a preference for a certain type. For example:

  • Drug stores and big supermarket chains often sell personal lubricants.Though convenient, they typically have a small selection (think: K-Y and Astroglide), and some people may not be comfortable buying lubricant in such a public setting.

  • Adult retail stores (aka sex shops) also sell personal lubricants. Depending on the store, they should offer a significantly wider selection than drug stores or supermarkets, and the staff should be able to answer any questions you have.

  • Many brick-and-mortar adult stores also sell their products online. If you have a specific brand of lubricant you want to try out, you may be able to buy it directly from the company website.

  • To make things even easier, you can now add on single- use sachets of water-based personal lubricant to your existing Pill Club birth control subscription.

No matter where you buy lubricant, or which type ends up being your fave, what's important is you're advocating for your sexual health and pleasure. You're willing to experiment a little to find the most enjoyment in your sex life, and that's something to be proud of.

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