Lube: Which Lubricants Are Best, And How Do You Tell The Difference?
The Debrief: Lube, glorious lube: knowing your water-based from your waste-of-money.
I used to think that using lubricant during sex marked me out as a failure. I wasn't getting wet enough with my natural lubrication, so I had to sigh and give up and squirt a few helpful drops onto his penis just to make sure things worked. Now, thanks to a lot more experimentation with sex toys and understanding about what lube can do, lubricant is more than just an 'emergency helper' - it's a vital part of my sex life. As a result, I currently have eight different bottles of lube on the go, and a few more in my store cupboard just waiting to be clumsily fumbled open in the heat of the moment. But what's the best kind of lube? Which lubricants work best for each sexual purpose, and how do you know what goes well with what?
Allow me to be your lube sommelier, and recommend a few great lubes for different occasions.
Water based lubricant
Consider water-based lubricant a cupboard staple. It can be used in conjunction with sex toys as well as condoms – unlike silicone lube, for instance, which can degrade silicone toys, or oil-based lube which degrades condoms.
There are lots of variations within the category of water-based lube, but ultimately if you're looking for something that feels nice and doesn't smell of anything, I'd recommend Sliquid H2O. It's a very simple formula, and the company prides itself on keeping its lubes free from things like glycerin (can mess with the delicate balance in your vaginal ecosystem, or trigger allergies) and parabens (which some people are allergic to, and which are potentially bad for you in large quantities).
Believe it or not, there's a hell of a lot of science behind lube and a million and one factors that can make the difference between something that works brilliantly for you and something that makes your genitals run away crying. If you want to find out more about the science behind lube, sex blogger Dangerous Lilly has the lowdown on all the sciencey bits: the chemicals, the concentrations, and everything in between.
If you're not bothered about glycerin and parabens, and you'd like a water-based lube that feels silkier like silicone, I also use Liquid Silk, which you can buy cheap from the NHS Freedoms Shop. The texture is lovely, and it looks a bit like spunk which I find delightful.
Good: water-based lube is a good all-rounder, and especially useful if you're having a session where you're switching between sex toys.
Not so good: for having sex in the bath or shower – it washes away quite easily.
It used to be the case that silicone lubricant was more silky-feeling than water-based lube (which tends to feel more slippery). This is still partly true – it's easier to create that lovely silky-soft texture with a silicone lubricant – though water-based lubes like Liquid Silk have (I think) successfully come up with a water-based equivalent.
But some people still prefer the look and feel of silicone. The main thing you need to know about silicone lube is that it is not compatible with silicone sex toys – don't use it to test out your latest silicone vibrator. On the up side, silicone lubricant doesn't tend to evaporate like a water-based lube can, so if you're planning a seriously long session then silicone lube might be your best bet. Sliquid Silver is great, and Pjur Bodyglide is long-lasting and great for use during shower or bath sex.
Good for: sex in the bath or shower, and longer sessions where you need lube with staying power.
Not good for: a session with silicone sex toys.
These are lubricants that combine the best of both worlds – they're safe to use with silicone sex toys, but they have that silky texture too. Here you're going to find more lubes which contain things like parabens and glycerin. For some of you they will be a dealbreaker (scroll down to the section on organic and natural lube!), while for others they won't.
For hybrid lubes, my favourite is 'Mancunt' but there's a chance I just love that because of the weird name. It's a hybrid lube that works really nicely, though, and as my sex blogging colleague The Big Gay Review pointed out: “the colour is very similar to cum.”
Good for: all-round fun – like water-based lubes.
I really hope no one's come up with a Marmite flavoured lube, but flavoured lubes are a bit like Marmite – you either love 'em or hate 'em. Personally I'm not a fan, but if you are then the flavours of GiveLube's Cheeky Cherry and Raspberry Kiss are both decent.
If you're a serious edible lube fiend, you need to get over to the System Jo website where they offer flavours such as 'tiramisu' and 'salted caramel.' The System Jo team turn up at sex events occasionally with a pop-up cocktail bar where they'll mix you shots of vodka with your favourite lubes included. So although I'm not saying you should serve lube at your next house party, I'm pointing out that you can if you'd like to.
With flavoured lube, you need to be extra careful if you have sensitive skin – most flavoured lubes will contain glycerin and additional chemicals/ingredients for flavour. Check the ingredients list before you buy and check with your partner that they're not allergic to anything you'll be smearing on their nethers.
Good for: spicing (or sweetening) things up, or surprising a one-night stand who really loves tiramisu.
Not so good for: people with sensitive skin.
Lubricant oil – coconut oil and 'massage oil' lubes
I have some vegan friends who swear by coconut oil as a lubricant. It's organic, natural, what's not to like? Well, for a start oil-based lubes (this includes 'massage oil' lubricants) are not compatible with condoms. If you're using condoms (or dental dams, gloves, or other latex-based protection products) then you need to avoid oil at all costs – it degrades the latex and can mean that your protection is ineffective.
Oil will also likely mess with your sex toys and it can be much harder to wash off. I'd only use oil-based lube with metal or glass toys, and water-based lube for the others.
Some people do prefer the feeling of oil-based lube, and they're especially good for using in the bath or shower. They also double-up as massage oils, so you can start with a lovely massage then ease right into the shagging. If this sounds like your cup of tea, Yes has a range of plant-oil based lubes you might want to check out.
Good for: if you like a really slippery shag, and/or you want to incorporate massage into sex.
Not good for: anyone who's using condoms or other latex protection.
Organic lubricants and vegan lubricants
Many of the lubricants mentioned above are also organic – coconut oil, for instance, appeals to lots of people because it's a natural lubricant. See also almond oil.
Sliquid Organics is a great range of organic lubes, and means you can find organic lubricant that won't degrade condoms the way oil-based products can. They're also all vegan, so you can rest assured that no animals were harmed in the making of your latest sex sesh.
Good for: impressing a date who just took you to an organic vegan restaurant.
I can't in good conscience recommend numbing lube. Yes, there are some potential benefits – I have known gentlemen who use numbing lube or condoms to last longer in bed (a squirt or two inside a condom, for instance), and numbing lubricants are also often sold as great ways to get into anal sex.
But call me old-fashioned, I don't want to be numbed so I can endure a shag. Ultimately numbing lube can be very dangerous – if you cannot feel what's happening down there, you have no way of knowing if something might have torn. Give these a miss.
I'm going to file this one, along with 'numbing lubes' into the 'nope' category. While some condoms come with a spermicidal lube included in the packet, and separate spermicidal lube is available to buy on its own, according to the NHS website it's still one to be avoided:
“research has found that a spermicide called nonoxynol 9 does not protect against STIs such as chlamydia and HIV, and may even increase the risk of infection. It is best to avoid using spermicide-lubricated condoms, or spermicide as an additional lubricant.”
Annoyingly, according to search info lots of people Google for good anal lubricant using the keyword 'gay lube.' Which is a bit like finding a new coffee table by searching 'straight-hipster-couple coffee table.' What they mean is usually lube that's good for anal, which can be used no matter what your sexuality or preference when it comes to coffee tables.
I would recommend any of the silicone or hybrid lubes above – because those are the ones I tend to use when it's time to lube up for anal. But I'd also add Pjur's Backdoor Relaxing Anal Glide – again for sale from the bargain NHS shop – it's a thick formulation, designed for anal, but crucially not designed to numb your arse on the way in. GiveLube's super-thick anal lube is decent too.
Good for: anal, duh.
Not so good for: use with sex toys – I find it can be too thick and just too much if you're using it vaginally, but your mileage may vary.
Warming lubricant and cooling lubricant
Warming and cooling lubes do more or less what they say on the tin, but to radically different degrees. I've used some warming lubes that have given me a slight tingle, and others that warmed me so much you could have stone-baked pizza inside my vagina.
If you're just looking for something to give you a tingle, Durex's 'tingle' lube has had the most consistent effect for me. Again with all the caveats about checking ingredients first – warming/cooling lubes, like flavoured ones, are more likely to contain chemicals that may give you a reaction.
Good for: making things a bit more interesting.
Not so good for: making a drastic change. Honestly you may well struggle to notice the difference with some of them.
How many lubes does one person need?
If you bought one of every recommendation on the list above, you'd end up with a bedside table that looked like a cross between a sex shop and a cocktail bar. Naturally I think this adds a touch of saucy class to anyone's bedroom, but you may prefer something a little more minimalist. If you're still not sure which lubes to buy, I can tell you that your purposes will probably be well served with just three:
•a decent water-based lube as a staple – for use with sex toys and if you're using condoms or other latex protection.
•a thicker or silicone lube for anal sex and water-based play.
•one 'wildcard' lube that you've chosen because you think it's interesting – flavoured, tingling, warming, has-a-cool-name, whatever. Because half the fun of lube is that it's way cheaper than sex toys, so you don't have to feel guilty about buying something on a whim.
Liked this? You might also be interested in:
Follow Rebecca on Twitter @rebecca_hol
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating