Oil-based. Water-based. Warming. Flavored. “Homemade.” There are so many types of lube out there that James Deen is probably confused. I thought I knew the ins and out of sexual lubricant — that is, until I checked in with Claire Cavanah, co-owner of Babeland, a sex-positive, feminist sex toy store that sells dozens of different lubes. With so many different options available, we could all use a primer on how to choose the best lube for our needs. (And yes, it is a need. From birth control pills to antihistimines, there are lots of reasons women may not be getting wet enough on our own.)
Let’s walk through some of the main kinds of lube, which are available online or at specialty shops like Babeland, as well as at local pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens:
Silicone-based lube is a long-lasting lubricant with staying power in the bedroom, the bath, or anywhere else you use it. “Silicone is for folks who just want to keep going!” Cavanah enthused. Silicone-based lube is greasy and doesn’t absorb into the skin (meaning you need to wipe up afterwards — keep those baby wipes handy!). “It’s off-putting to some people because it feels artificial,” Cavanah explained. Silicone-based lube is good to use in a shower because it won’t break down; it can also be used for anal play.
BabeLube ($22) is a vegan and gluten-free option; If you’re enjoying your lube with a condom, make sure you find a silicone-based lube that is latex-safe, such as Astroglide X Silicone Liquid ($10.99).
My personal favorite, water-based lube feels more ‘natural’ and slick in that it mimics the wetness of women’s vaginal fluids. Unlike silicone- or oil-based lubes, water-based ones absorb into the skin and need to be reapplied throughout your sexual activity. They are totally safe for condoms and since they’re mostly water, they don’t leave stains on fabric — a bonus for cleanliness fussbudgets like myself. “Water-based lube washes off really well,” Cavanah explained. Water-based lube can also be used for anal play. Flavored lubes also tend to be water-based, with tastes ranging from the more common strawberry to dulce de leche and pink lemonade.
My personal favorite water-based lube is Booty Parlor Add Magic Lubricant ($16) (in part because it comes in such pretty packaging). Bableand sells Sliquid H20 ($20), a water-based lubricant that’s also gluten-free.
A warming lubricant can be a little unnerving at first: What’s that burning sensation in my crotch?! But warming lubes are actually gentle and many people find the tingly feeling super-sexy. Some warming ingredients are from chemicals, but more natural-based lubes will use ingredients like cinnamon or peppermint. Be warned that warming lubes tend to be oil-based, which means they will degrade a latex condom. They’re safe to use on your genitals and also feel lovely as a massage oil; avoid using these for anal play, however, because it might cause pain, Cavanah said.
K-Y Warming Liquid ($7.99) is my old warming-lube standby. Babeland sells an all-natural vegan Arousal Balm($6) made from peppermint oil, avocado oil, shea butter, coconut oil and other ingredients.
Some people are just DIY about everything, aren’t they? But Cavanah does not recommend homemade lubes out of safety. “We have always said get your lube in a bottle because there’s some oversight into how it is produced,” she explained. If you really must use a “homemade” lube, she recommends olive oil, although “it’s probably going to stain your sheets” (and most definitely will degrade a condom). There are various DIY lube recipes available on the Internet, but think long and hard whether you want to risk an awkward visit to the gyno.
Other Basic Tips for Buying Lube:
Cavanah recommends that wherever possible, test a lube in person. This means going to a sex toy shop and squirting some lube from a tester onto your skin. Feel it, smell it, and even taste it if it’s possible you may be getting some in your mouth during your sexytime romps. You don’t want to waste good money on a bottle of lube that you won’t use. (You can learn more about how to choose the best lube for you straight from Babeland.)
Secondly, make sure you read ingredient labels. If you are allergic to gluten, glycerin, or other ingreidents found in lubes, make sure to avoid them. In this day and age, there are plenty of lube options for everyone.
Lastly, keep in mind that while some condoms come with spermicides already on them (it will say on the package), lubricants are not spermicides. Lube on its own will not prevent pregnancy or the spread of STIs/STDs. You can learn more about condoms, spermicides and other birth control options on Planned Parenthood’s information page on Birth Control.