Some water-based lubes also include flavors, fragrances, or warming ingredients that can make your experience not so pleasurable. “I wouldn’t encourage using flavored lube, because it has either artificial flavoring or sugar, which can be irritating,” Dr. Rowen says. Similarly, fragranced and warming lubes can also cause vaginal irritation, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG).
These have a much thicker consistency, are more slippery, and last longer than a water-based lubricant. “These are good for women who really have significant dryness and difficulty with anything insertional,” Dr. Rowen says. Since silicone lubricants don’t dry out as quickly as water based-lubes, they are also a good option for anal sex, where there is no natural lubrication working in your favor. That said, Dr. Adams says you may feel some residue from the lube if you don’t wash it off completely. And you don’t need to worry about silicone-based lubes weakening latex, nitrile, and polyurethane condoms.
The one time you should never use silicone lube is when you’re using silicone sex toys. “Like damages like,” Dr. Rowen says. “Silicone lubes will break down sex toys.” Instead, opt for a water-based with a silicone sex toy or oil-based if you don’t need to use any latex barrier on the toy.
The biggest downfall of using oil-based lube is that it degrades and breaks latex condoms. (It’s fine to use with nitrile and polyurethane condoms.) If you’re relying on using latex barriers for birth control or to prevent STI transmission, then you’ll want to use a water-based or silicone-based lube. But if an oil-based lube makes sense for your sex life, you have plenty of options. There are various oil-based lubes on the market, but you can also go for simpler options, like certain plant oils.
Some people just use coconut oil, which Dr. Adams recommends.
“Coconut oil is my favorite lubricant. I like it because it’s cheap and it smells great,” she says. Generally, coconut oil is well-tolerated, but some people may find it irritating, according to Cleveland Clinic. Alternatively, the Cleveland Clinic says you can use olive oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, or sweet almond oil. You should definitely also avoid using anything like baby oil or petroleum jelly with any latex barriers, according to ACOG.
How to choose and use lube
As we mentioned, everyone’s lube needs are different. If you have sensitive skin and are worried that a particular lube might be irritating, you can test it out first. To be as safe as possible, start by testing the lube on your wrist or inner elbow. However, even if the patch test goes well, your genitals may be more sensitive due to the differences in the skin and mucous membranes in the area, so after this, you can try applying lube on and around the vulva to see how you react. And finally, you can test the product in your vagina to see if you experience any sensitivity. (Of course, you can also skip ahead to testing the vulva or vagina if you feel comfortable doing so.)
When it comes to using lube, Dr. Adams generally advises that people with vaginas put some lubricant inside the vagina, at the opening of the vagina, and on the vulva (such as on the labia minora and majora). If you’re using a condom, Dr. Rowen suggests adding some lube inside the condom first in addition to applying it on the outside. “Put a little lube at the tip of the condom in the semen reservoir,” Dr. Rowen says. This helps decrease any friction inside the condom. It won’t compromise the condom’s effectiveness as long as you stick to water- or silicone-based lube.
Water-based lubricants can slow sperm motility, which is important to know if you’re trying to get pregnant. If that’s the case, you can try mineral or canola oils, according to Mount Sinai.
Ultimately, you may need to experiment by trying different lubes in varying amounts to see what feels best to you. But once you find a lube that you enjoy, sex can be even more comfortable and hot for everyone involved.