How to Choose Your Perfect Lubricant

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Why is it so hard to pick a lubricant?

Lubricants have been known to be tricky. Using a silicone lube with a silicone toy is discouraged—but why is that? Should you be concerned with ingredients—absolutely! Are some lubricants formulated for specific sexual activities? You bet they are. 


Determining how you’ll be using your lube, your personal needs, along with your body type, and so many lubricant choices on the market—all that can cause confusion. So, let’s break down lubricant types, a few facts, and some useful information to help you learn how to choose your own perfect lube. 


Why Lube?

Most often, there are four solutions that lubricants provide:

 

1. Lube increases comfort and reduces friction.

2. Provides vaginal lubrication when needed, since natural lubrication can fluctuate.

3. Lubricants are necessary for safe anal play.

4. Sensation-play and edible lubes can encourage exploration.

     

    First and foremost, lubrication can provide a barrier during sexual activities and sex toy use, allowing for a more comfortable experience. 


    A 2009 study by Indiana University found that lubricant use during sexual activities, alone or with a partner, contributed to higher ratings of more pleasurable and satisfying sex. And, according to Planned Parenthood, using lubrication with condoms makes it less likely the condom will break or fall off, thereby increasing your protection against STIs. 


    Now, let’s take a deeper look into each of those four solutions mentioned above.


    1. Lube Increases Comfort

    Essentially, lubricants increase comfort, ease, and pleasure. They help protect bodies from injury, infection, and improve intimate experiences. 


    2. Provides Vaginal Lubrication

    Vaginal lubrication fluctuates based on various factors. Here are common ones:

    • Age
    • Medication
    • Hormonal Swings
    • Arousal Levels
    • Diet
    • Emotional Reasons

     

    According to research by the University of Michigan, lubricants are effective in relieving pain during intercourse for many midlife-aged women. 


    3. Essential for Anal Play

    The rectum is not self-lubricating, which makes it imperative to use lubrication during anal play. While water-based lubricants seem to be the catch-all for sexual activities, specifically designed anal lubricants tend to be thicker and longer-lasting, providing a cushioned barrier during anal sex. 


    4. Sensation-play Lubricants

    Temperature-play lubricants assist with personal and partnered sexual exploration. 


    Warming lubricants offer a gentle, or intense, sensation of warmth, which may help draw blood to delicate tissues for increased stimulation. Warming lubes help stimulate circulation in the genitals, helping to expand arousal. Warmth is also good for muscle relaxation.


    Sunny Tip! Warming products work well for women over the age of 40, when hormone levels begin to drop. Their use helps increase sensation, circulation, and responsiveness in the genital area. 


    Cooling lubricants bring a fresh, tingling sensation to the skin. A cooling lube can interact with a person’s body chemistry, allowing for an icy-hot feeling that may help heighten overall sensations. 


    Warming and cooling sensations are a matter of personal preference.


    Edible, flavored lubricants can also engage the senses. They help mask the taste of latex condoms and body parts, and also add the element of food-play to sexual situations. 


    What happens if you don’t use Lube? 

    According to Medical News Today, sexual activity is a common cause of minor vaginal tears or micro-tears. Vaginal tears often happen during sex when the vaginal canal isn’t wet enough.


    Plus, during sexual activities where a penis, finger or sex toy is inserted vaginally, anally, or orally, there is a possibility of damaging delicate tissues.


    These are just a few reasons why using lubricants can be important for your sexual and physical wellbeing. 


    How do I choose the Perfect Lube for Me?

    First, consider what you’ll be using lubrication for. While silicone is an excellent choice for anal play, it isn’t compatible with silicone sex toys. This is because the silicone lubricant can break down and degrade the silicone material over time. 


    1. Determine how you’ll be using your lube.

    • Partnered sex
    • Personal play
    • Sex toy activities
    • Anal play
    • Urethral sounding
    • Electrostimulation
    • As a vaginal moisturizer

     

    When choosing a lubricant for electrostimulation, or e-stim, a water-based formula works exceptionally well since it acts as a conductive element. 


    2. Consider allergies and skin sensitivities. 

    Keep in mind which ingredients you may be sensitive to. Consider natural, organic, or lubricants containing limited ingredients if you know you have sensitive skin. 


    Because the rectal canal is not self-lubricating, generally silicone lubricants are recommended. This is because they usually have a thicker formula designed to offer extra padding and are longer lasting. 

     

    However, the rectal canal is a moisture permeable membrane capable of transmitting soluble chemicals into the bloodstream. For this reason, consider water-based anal lubricants that have less chemicals and are easier for clean-up with no residue. 


    3. Take your personal preferences into account. 

    Some lubricants are not vegan or may do animal testing. Some lubricants are not made in a certified laboratory. If these items are important to you, make sure your personal lubricant choice reflects them. 


    Sunny Tip! The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) considers lubricants medical devices and only formulas that have been FDA-approved or FDA-regulated can use the title “lubricant”. This is one way to know that the formula has been laboratory tested. 


    4. Consider lubricants that are made with you in mind.

    Some lubricants are made with vaginal pH levels taken into consideration, are designed specifically for masturbation or vegans, or are crafted for older, menopausal women who need additional moisture. 


    Take time to determine if there is something extra that may be helpful for you. 


    Sunny Tip! Sometimes it can be a good idea to purchase smaller sizes and experiment with different lubricants to see how your body reacts, prior to buying full-size items. 


    Choosing Your Lube – A Quick Checklist

    _____ How will you be using your lubricant? 


    _____ Do you have any allergies or skin sensitivities?


    _____ Would you prefer a laboratory tested lubricant?


    _____ Are you considering a specialty lubricant to meet your specific needs? 


    _____ Is your lubricant choice compatible with sex toys?


    _____ If you’ve chosen a lube for partner-play, does it take into account your partners’ preferences?


    _____ Should you order a few different lubricants so you can experiment?


    _____ Would sensation-play lubricants add another dimension to your sexual activities?

     

     

    Also keep in mind that personal lubricants do have a recommended shelf life. According to data from the FDA, the shelf life of lubricants is from one to three years depending on the formulation and ingredients. A good rule is to replace personal lubricants every six to nine months. Lubricants opened over a year ago should be discarded and replaced. 


    Sunny Tip! Store your lubricants in a cool, dry location at room temperature and make sure to always keep the cap firmly closed during storage. 


    The decision on which lubricant to use is a personal preference, but I advise taking time to learn about the different options that are available and to explore options to find the one that works the best for you. 


    Are you eager to try new types and brands of lubricants? Do you have a better idea of how to choose the lubricant that will work best for you? Please send me your questions and comments. I would love to hear from you.


    Dr. Sunny does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

    Dr. Sunny Rodgers is a clinician, author, and speaker who has worked in the wellness industry since 2000. She holds a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, a Master of Arts in Clinical Sexology, and is an accredited Sexual Health Educator. She is the Founder of The Institute of Intimate Health, an Ambassador for the American Sexual Health Association, regular lecturer for the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Sexual Confidence Coach for the Marigold App, and a professional Sex Toy Concierge™. Rodgers hosted a popular weekly show on Playboy Radio, has been an expert guest on several TV and radio programs, and is a regular contributor to HuffPost, Men's Health, Cosmo, Bustle, and many more publications.