Lube 101: Lube Basics & How To Pick a Lube Type

Mike Givens

Think about it: In 2021, sex offers us so many diverse pleasures. We can change up our sexual partners, have sex in different positions, use any number of toys, engage in a wide range of kinks and fetishes, and explore different ways to find pleasure. 

However, there’s one universal necessity each of us has if we’re penetrating, being penetrated, or playfully exploring our bodies: lube

So, yes, dear reader, in the same way you have different options when it comes to dildos, nipple clamps, and slings, you also have a few options to choose from when you’re plowing, getting plowed, and generally fooling around, whether you’re alone or not. 

So take a ride with us and learn about your options when it comes to having slippery and slick sexy sessions. 

A biology lesson 

So, let’s get graphic for a bit, shall we? 

Since the dawn of time, human beings have always had a fascination with holes:

  • Digging them
  • Filling them in
  • Drawing them
  • Attaching philosophical and religious meaning to them
  • Using them as a means of achieving pleasure 
  • And that kinda important act of procreating 

Whatever hole you’re trying to fill, you’re probably going to need some help filling it. Think about it: Kissing someone requires a little bit of spit to make it just right. When it comes to the front hole/vagina, there’s a need for extra moisture to make penetration easy. 

Luckily for many of those with front holes, they naturally produce sweat and moisture when aroused, making penetration easier. But how about the other parts of our bodies? We all tend to produce a bit of sweat in our nether regions, which makes sex a bit easier and enjoyable, right? 

But, alas, sometimes we need a bit more than just a healthy amount of sweat or spit to get the job done. 

Enter lube: a tried and true method to ensure your holes, hands, and other body parts are fully prepared for some wet and wild fun. 

Decisions, decisions

So, here’s where we get to the fun part: the types of lube you can choose from. Let’s look at each kind.

Oil-based lube

Oil-based lubricants can make for great sex and a friction-free experience. Many can also double as massage oils, and they have a tendency to last a while and moisturize the skin. These lubes are great for skin-to-skin contact, masturbation, and handjobs. 

However, there’s a downside to oils: they don’t mesh well with latex. Oils have a tendency to break down latex, so they shouldn’t be used with latex condoms, diaphragms, or sex toys. So if you use latex condoms, please avoid using an oil-based lube or switch over to a lambskin or polyurethane condom. 

Just remember: if you use an oil-based lube with a latex condom, you may be at increased risk of contracting an infection or causing a pregnancy, as the lube will cause the latex to degrade. 

Oil-based lubes are also suitable for those of you who choose not to wear condoms and prefer a more natural experience. The last thing to consider regarding oil-based lubes is that the oil is thick and can leave a mess; so be prepared for some stained sheets, comforters, car vinyl, a bear-skin rug, that old picnic blanket you pulled down from the attic, or whatever type of material you’re having sex on. 

Water-based lube

Water-based lubricants have water as one of their main ingredients. A major difference between oil- and water-based lube is that the latter is much lighter.

While they’re much easier to clean up than oily lubes, they also absorb more easily into the skin. This means that you may need to reapply the lube a couple more times during sex to replenish. These lubes are good to use with all kinds of condoms and sex toys and work well with handjobs and body play. 

Silicone-based lube

Silicone-based lubricants are thicker than water-based lubes but less oily than oil-based lubes. This type of lube shares a lot of the same characteristics as water-based lubes. Silicone-based lube can be used for a range of activities and works well with latex condoms and toys. 

A fundamental difference for silicone lube is that it doesn’t absorb into the skin as easily. These lubes will last longer, and you’ll find yourself using less as they can remain on the skin much longer. As opposed to oil-based lubes, silicone-based lubricants are less messy and easier to clean. However, they do stain more than water-based lubes. 

Which lube should I use?

When considering your lube options, there are some key considerations you should keep in mind. To make it easy for you, just remember to L.U.B.E.U.P.: 

Learn. Reading articles like this is vitally important as they help you learn your options, the risks involved, and which lubes may be appropriate to use with your partner(s). Also, consider talking to a public health expert, your doctor, or do a bit of research yourself. If you are going to improvise, here's a list of potential lube substitutes & what not to use.

Understand. Know your body and your preferences. If you’re a big fan of using latex condoms, oil-based lubes probably aren’t the way to go. If you’re going to get freaky on those brand new, bright pink silk sheets you bought in San Francisco, maybe stay away from silicone- and oil-based lubes. 

Be considerate. Sex is about comfort and pleasure, so be safe. If you’re about to hook up with someone, ask what their lube preference is or if they have a preference at all. There’s this thing called the Horny Haze, that mystical, intoxicating feeling you get when you’re aroused and ready to have sex. That haze also means that good judgement may take a back seat. 

However, make sure that you know what lubes you’re down to use and ask your sexual partner(s) about their preferences. It’s wise to keep different lubes around for various partners. Your partner will appreciate knowing if they’ll need to lay out a towel to ensure you don’t stain their newly purchased sheets.

Ease into sex. It’s great to have figured out which lube works best for you and the person(s) you’re about to have sex with. But just because you’ve got a bucket full of coconut oil next to your bed isn’t a license to go at it like a jackhammer. Lube is there to make penetration and play easier, but it’s not a substitute for taking things slow and progressing at a reasonable pace. Going too quickly can increase the likelihood of tearing & HIV (so you may want to consider taking PrEP to reduce HIV risk). If you'd like to learn more, check out our resource that goes over what PrEP is in detail.

The last thing you want your partner(s) to tell you is that you’re going too fast, are being too aggressive, or you’re pounding—or playing with—it too hard. Likewise, if you’re the receptive partner, don’t be afraid to set your limits so you don’t feel completely overwhelmed if there’s the perfect amount of lube but a less-than-perfect amount of patience. 

Unlearn unhealthy practices. Like with so many things, there are certain misinformed myths around sex. For example, ever heard (or thought) that using more lube is better? Well, it’s not. Too much lube can make things too slippery and can make for some embarrassing fumbles. Or what about that sneaking suspicion that if you need lube, it’s somehow a tragic flaw or your body isn’t working correctly? This also is a myth. 

Our bodies are all different, and we produce so many fluids in so many different ways. If you’re not getting the optimal amount of sweat down there, it’s fine. Lube is your friend. Lube. Is. Your. Friend. 

Practice makes perfect. Okay, no one is “perfect” at sex, but using lube in a solo session isn’t off-limits. Try not to be one of those who think that lube should only be used with a partner. That’s not true at all. Masturbation and intimate self-play can be enhanced by lube. Exploring your body, playing with your private parts, or gently inserting a finger in a hole can be incredibly erotic. Lube can help make your self-play more engaging. Lubing up toys like dildos or fleshlights can help simulate an actual sexual encounter with another person. 

It’s an opportunity to experiment, to play with yourself in a judgement-free space to explore different aspects of sex that you might like. And guess what? The better you know your body and how it responds to certain things, the better your ability to communicate this to a partner (or partners) when it’s time to have sex with others. 

It’s also important to be mindful of health risks. For example, glycerin is a common ingredient used in lubricants, particularly ones that offer warming sensations or tingling upon application. However, studies have shown that glycerin may trigger yeast infections in those people who have a vagina. In the same way you should avoid using latex condoms if you have a latex allergy, avoid lubricants that potentially contain chemicals that could cause ill effects to your health. 

More knowledge means a better sexual experience 

As you casually slip and slide away from this article and to some other activity, the most important nugget of wisdom to take away is simple: Knowledge is power. 

If you do your research and make an informed decision about which lube you prefer in what circumstances, you’re that much closer to ensuring that your sexual experience is one for the history books! 

Additionally in this series, we’ll discuss lube alternatives and lubes to avoid in a pinch and how to best lube with condoms, toys, and your partner.

Written by:
Mike Givens

Mike Givens received his bachelor’s degrees in Marketing and English Literature from Virginia Tech. He has a master’s degree in investigative journalism from Boston University. He is a social justice advocate and is the full-time communications director for an international human rights organization in New England. He spends his spare time writing on a range of issues, from LGBTQ+ rights and income inequality to sexual health and politics. He is also a freelance copyeditor.

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