Personal lubricants serve many, many purposes: They help to address vaginal dryness issues, they’re essential to anal sex, they can facilitate and/or enhance toy play and manual masturbation, and on, and on, and on. But not all lubes work in all scenarios, or for all people, so we’re breaking down the five most common types of lubes—water-based, silicone-based, oil-based, warming and cooling, and flavored—to help you figure out which lube or lubes is best for you.
Let’s start with the personal lubricant that will be right for most people—water-based lube. If you’re new to lube, or looking for something that can take you from manual solo play to coupled penetrative use to use with toys, water-based lube is what you want. Water-based lubes work in pretty much any scenario, since they can be used with both condoms and with sex toys, regardless of material type. Water-based lubes most closely mimic the feel of natural vaginal lubrication, if that’s something that matters for you, and is also the easiest type of lube to clean up, if that’s something that matters for you. (If it’s not don’t tell me!)
There is, of course, a drawback because we live in an imperfect world: Water-based lubes dry out quite quickly, and may have to be frequently reapplied throughout use.
Silicone-based lubes in no way suffer from the big, big problem with water-based lubes: Silicone lube lasts forever, and are slippery AF, making for a noticeably different experience in use. They’re especially popular for anal sex, partly because they don’t need to be reapplied and partly because of the “gliding” effect they provide (the anus is not naturally self-lubricating).
There is, of course, a drawback (drawbacks, actually) because we live in an imperfect world: Silicone lube should never be used with sex toys made of silicone, because silicone+silicone will damage the toy by causing the material to break down. The same thing goes for storing silicone toys—make sure to keep them separate!) Also, while silicone lube is a good choice for sex in watery settings because it doesn’t wash away, and therefore has more staying power, it can create a slip-and-fall hazard, so stick with it for tub/pool/hot tub/ocean/lake/etc. use but maybe skip it for shower sex. And, silicone lube stains like the dickens.
Oil-based lubes are closer in feel to silicone-based lubes, but are made of natural ingredients, which some people prefer to synthetic lubes. The type of oil or oils can vary widely, but common oil bases for lubes include aloe vera, coconut oil, and avocado oil. Oil-based lubes feel more slippery than water-based lubes, and are longer-lasting, so they’re great for solo use or for penetrative partnered use, and can also be used in water. Bonus! They double as massage oil if you’re into that sort of thing.
There is, of course, a drawback (drawbacks, actually) because, well, you know: Oil-based lubes can’t be used with latex condoms, diaphragms, or sex toys. And, like anything oil-based, the stains can be hard to get out of sheets, towels, or clothing.
Warming and cooling lubes offer an easy entree into the world of temperature play. Temperature play is the use of hot or cold substances, like ice or lube, or objects, like a chilled metal dildo, to stimulate the body’s neuroreceptors and enhance the sexual experience. Some people even find that warming or cooling lubes make orgasms feel more intense.
Drawbacks! The ingredients in warming and cooling lubricants can cause irritation, stinging, redness, and/or burning, and can trigger yeast infections in people who are prone to them.
Flavored lubes are sort of the novelty apron of the lube world, but just like novelty aprons, flavored lubes are fun and functional, so don’t sleep on them! They can enhance oral sex, especially for couples who move between oral and penetrative sex in one session, because flavored lubes can be used for both.
Drawbacks: Flavored lubes dry out quickly, and because glycerin is a common ingredient, they can trigger yeast infections in people who are prone to them; others may find that flavored lubes are irritating to sensitive skin. And, they tend to be very sticky, making them unpleasant-feeling for many people and difficult to clean up.