Why so many types of lube?

Dear Dex,

I walked into a sex store looking for some lube (the drug store in my hometown basically has 2 or 3)…and I was overwhelmed. What’s the difference, is there a difference in lubes? I mean, they all do the same thing? Don’t they?


Great question. Well, I’m pretty sure that most lubes are meant to do the same thing: lubricate. Yes, true. BUT, the difference is more about what you are lubing up and what sort of sexing/rubbing/licking/etc. you’ll be doing with that lube. I’m going to break this down into 3 basic categories:

Water based, Silicone based, and Oil based.

Water based lube is great place to start when trying out lubes. It’s carried by most drug stores, can be relatively cheap, and is latex safe. Being latex safe is great because most condoms are made out of latex (although there are many other kinds available to those who have latex sensitivities). Some things to think about with water based lube are that you may have to reapply (often, depending on what you’re doing) and that a lot of water based lube contain glycerine, which is derived from sugar, which can cause yeast infections for those are sensitive (especially flavored lube, which are primarily meant for oral sex). There are many kinds that are glycerine free, so don’t worry. Also, there’s various viscosities that go from thick gel to watery slippery goodness.

Silicone based lube is another latex safe option that lasts longer than water based lube. It’s especially great for anal sex. Think about how your colon works: it’s meant to draw out water back into your body. If you use water based lube for anal sex, you have to reapply. With silicone lube, which is not made out of water, stays wet longer, even in your anus. Having sex in water is also an option with this lube, since it doesn’t just rinse off very easily. Some things to know though, are that silicone can stain fabric (like your sheets), and because it stays wet longer (even in water) be careful in places like the shower not to slip. It really is slippery. When you’re done, just use soap and water to clean it off. It’s a little more expensive and is not as readily available at drug stores, but it’s a worthwhile investment (you generally don’t have to use a lot at one time) and you can order it online.

Oil based lubes definitely stay wet longer. They are great if you want a really thick smooth feel. Here’s the thing: it’s not latex safe. So, using oil based lubes with latex condoms and gloves doesn’t really work out. Ways to get around that are to use non-latex condoms and gloves (like the pretty purple nitrile ones). Oil based lubes are great for fisting too. Again, your colon soaks up water like a sponge, so using something oil based means less reapplication and more focus on the task at hand (get my pun?). There are many sex specific oil based lubes on the market, especially for fisting, but drug stores don’t usually carry those. You may, however, be able to find things like Crisco (a fisting classic), olive oil, and petroleum jelly. These are usually safe for your butt, but not always for your front hole. Also, things like animal shortening and food products can go bad. Don’t put spoiled food products in any of your holes, please.

All of these varieties have different textures, smells, and can be used for different reasons. Some things to look out for though, are “warming/cooling” additives and numbing additives. Warming/cooling lubes are often contain glycerol, which is a sugar alcohol, which is not great for those prone to yeast infections. Also, if you know you have herpes, this is something to avoid. It may trigger an outbreak or exaserbate the issue, especially if it also contains capsacin. Numbing additives are also something to watch out for. Originally, it was meant to prolong erections for someone with a penis by reducing the awesome sensation of sex. It’s also being marketed for those getting fucked to take more and for longer. Look, your body’s pain signals are there for a reason: to warn you that you could be potentially damaging your body. Sometimes people like a little pain, which is great, but it’s really important to be able to differentiate between enjoyable pain and pain that might mean you’re damaging some really important body parts. Benzocaine is often the active ingredient in numbing lubes, which is actually a local anesthetic. After doing some research, I found, through the FDA, that one of the potential dangers of benzocaine is methemoglobinemia, a rare, but serious condition in which the amount of oxygen carried through the blood stream is greatly reduced. In the most severe cases, methemoglobinemia can result in death. Signs and symptoms may include pale, gray or blue colored skin, lips, and nail beds; headache; lightheadedness; shortness of breath; fatigue; and rapid heart rate. http://www.fda.gov/safety/medwatch/safetyinformation/safetyalertsforhumanmedicalproducts/ucm250264.htm