There’s one thing that can instantly make sex feel better for women. Nope, not fantasizing about John Stamos (but probably that too) — lube! Research shows that over 65% of women* say using a lubricant makes sex very pleasurable and more comfortable. But not all lubes are created equal. Here’s what you need to know about them and how to choose the right one for you.
You’ve got options
Namely, silicone lube, water-based lube, oil-based lube, and a hybrid lube that’s water-based with traces of silicone or oil. Which one you’ll want to reach for will depend on a few factors, including the kind of sex you’re having, and whether you’re using a lubricated condom or sex toy.
The 411 on oil-based lubricants
If you remember nothing else about oil-based lubricants, remember this: never use them with latex condoms. The oil will degrade* the latex, making it way less effective at preventing against pregnancy and STDs. It’s also not great for vaginal use in general, since it can irritate the skin lining of the vulva and mess with the pH levels of the vagina. Stick to oil-based* for anal sex and external activities like hand jobs (just make sure to shower off if you’re going to move on to penile-vaginal sex afterwards).
Water-based: inexpensive, natural-feeling, and great for toys
The major pros of water-based lubes: they mimic your natural moisture and they’re cheaper than the others! They also work great with any toy (unlike silicone-based lubes, which we’ll get to next) and condoms. That said, since they do mimic your natural moisture, water-based lubes are generally thinner than silicone- and oil-based ones and evaporate* more quickly, so you’ll need to reapply during longer sessions. That goes for hybrid lubes that are water-based too.
Silicone lube: great for longer (and toy-free) sessions
Unlike oil-based lubes, you can go to town with silicone lubes when it comes to condoms. A silicone-based lube is thicker and also doesn’t* dry out like water-based lubes can, so it’s a great option for those marathon sessions or shower sex.
Just be careful when it comes to adding toys to the mix — silicone lube and silicone toys don’t get along. It sounds like it wouldn’t be an issue, but the silicon molecules in both will actually bond to each other, ruining your toy. The good news? There’s an easy workaround: just put a condom on your silicone toy. Keep in mind that once you’re done, you might need to spend a little more time* in the shower getting silicon-based lubes off your body — they’ve got lasting power during and after sex.
Lubes work well inside condoms too
Cool lube hack: men can add a little to the reservoir tip of a condom to reduce friction* between skin and latex, making for a smoother experience. Just make sure you’re sticking to silicone- or water-based only — oil-based lubes inside the condom will do the same damage as outside the condom.
DIY doesn’t mean better
Baby oil, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil might sound like a better idea than store-bought lubes with long lists of ingredients, but they’re not always the better option. Baby oil and mineral oil, like store-bought oil-based lubes, will also damage latex condoms. And research has found that petroleum jelly and baby oil can increase the risk* of bacterial vaginosis or yeast infection.
Watch out for problematic ingredients
Some lubricants can cause irritation or allergic reactions, warns* the University of California’s Berkeley Wellness, especially numbing and warming ones. Fragrance and flavoring ingredients can also be irritating, so use the inside of your elbow to do a skin test with that cherry-flavored lube a day or so before you plan to use it.
Other common culprits? Chlorhexidine, propylene glycol, and parabens (which will often listed as methyl-, butyl-, ethyl- and propyl-paraben). Glycerin is another super-common ingredient. It absorbs water, which keeps things moist (yay!), but it also has sugar in it, so if you’re prone to allergies, yeast infections, or irritation, you’ll want to look for a glycerin-free lube.