Lube Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Lubes for Sex

By Rachel Worthington / September 09, 2022

One day at Bedbible HQ, we had a realization. We haven’t yet written a guide for you all about lube!

Well, I jumped at the chance. Like many of you, I imagine, I’ve gone through my own lube journey, and now I have a LOT of thoughts about it.

We’re always going on about how essential lube is to any sexual activity, but finding which one is right for you can be a legitimate challenge! Just looking at the ingredients list for many lubes is enough to make you lose hope of ever understanding which ones are safe to use.

That’s where this guide comes in. I’ll take you through everything you need to know about lube, from the different types and bases, to which lube should be used for what, to which ones you should stay far away from!

Why is Lube So Essential?

Despite our very best efforts, there are still so many false rumors circulating about lube. Lubricant isn’t just something you need if you’re aging or not aroused enough, it can make any and all sex better!

Lube just provides extra moisture to make every movement smoother and more comfortable. That means that it also prevents you from experiencing friction which can lead to discomfort, pain and injuries.

Plus, it’s absolutely necessary when engaging in any kind of anal play. The anus, unlike the vagina (and the penis to a lesser extent), doesn’t create any of its own lubrication. You need to use lube, whether you’re going in with a penis, butt plug, anal beads or your fingers, in order to protect the delicate tissue of your anus. It just feels so much better, too.

Choosing the Right Lube for You

If you’re out looking for your perfect lube match, there are quite a lot of factors to keep in mind. You want it to be functional to fit your needs, as well as reliable, high-quality and affordable.

Here are some of the main factors you should consider when searching for lube:

  • The Type of Lube, or the Lube ‘Base’
  • Any Added Extras in the Lube, Like Moisturizers, Flavors or CBD
  • The pH Value (more on that below)
  • The Volume of the Bottle
  • The Price
  • The Toys You’re Going to Use it With
  • The User Ratings

All the Lube Bases Out There

Our Pick: Sliquid H2O

Water-Based Lube

This is our number one recommended lube! Water-based lube is fantastic for a whole host of reasons, and is extremely versatile. You can use a good water-based lube for partnered sex (both vaginal and anal) as well as masturbation.

It’s also the best option for using with sex toys, as it won’t react with or damage silicone in the same way that silicone-, oil-and hybrid-based lubes can.

Many experts also recommend water-based lubes for those with sensitive skin or those who are prone to vaginal infections. This is because it’s much less likely to trap germs beneath it and breaks down quickly inside the body.

Other benefits of water-based lube are that it won’t leave stains on your sheets or clothes, and it’s safe to use with condoms. However, there are unfortunately a couple of downsides, too. Water-based lubes dry out fairly quickly and you’ll have to reapply pretty frequently, plus they’ll just wash away if you try to use them in the bath or shower.

Our Pick: pjur Original

Silicone-Based Lube

Silicone lubricants are gaining popularity in the sex toy world, since they last a lot longer than many other kinds, especially water-based lubes. If you’re looking for lubes for your marathon sex romp (hey, I’m not gonna judge your sexual bucket list), silicone might just be the way to go.

Silicone-based lubes usually feel thicker and silkier than water-based lubes, and are more water-resistant. Sadly, though, that means that they’ll also take more effort to clean off. They’re also famous for staining sheets, clothes, furniture, hardwood floors — you name it!

The other important thing to remember about it is that it shouldn’t be used with silicone sex toys. The silicone in the lube acts as an abrasive to silicone sex toys, making the surface feel sticky and unsafe to use. This can also happen to toys made from other rubbery materials like TPE and PVC. However, it’s totally fine with toys made from glass, metal and hard plastic (ABS), and is also condom-safe.

Our Pick: Coconu Coconut Oil Lube

Oil-Based Lube

Oil-based lubes vary a lot from plant oils like coconut oil or sunflower oil, to mineral oils, to straight up Vaseline (petroleum jelly). Many people love them due to how slippery they feel and how long-lasting they are.

They’re incredibly water-resistant, but just like when you try to wash oil off your hands, they can be difficult to remove. The positive side of that, however, is that they can feel very nourishing your skin! This makes them fantastic for sensual massages. Just try to keep it away from your sheets and clothes!

Perhaps the biggest thing to remember about oil-based lube is that it doesn’t mix well with condoms. Oils break down and dissolve the latex in condoms and diaphragms, causing them to break, so you should avoid them if using these kinds of contraceptives. Oil-based lube can also damage other condom materials, like polyisoprene, so you should always read the instructions on the box before using them together.

Oil-based lubes can also trap bacteria and other germs inside the vagina and anus by creating a water-resistant layer that is difficult to clean away. This can result in infections, especially for those prone to bacterial vaginosis and/or yeast infections. For this reason, you might want to stick to using oil-based lube externally.

Our Pick: Sliquid Silk

Hybrid Lube

It’s the best of both worlds! In an effort to solve the problems that come with different types of lube made from a single base, many brands have created so-called hybrid lubes.

Usually a blend of water- and silicone-based lube, hybrid lubes last-longer than water-based lube alone, but are often thinner and less invasive to the delicate ecosystem of your vagina than solely silicone-based lube. That extra slipperiness can make them a favorite for lots of users. Plus, the milky color is perfect for fake cum lubes to use in squirting dildos.

Some hybrid lubes claim to be safe to use with silicone sex toys, as they contain silicone in amounts small enough not to damage the surface of the toy. Whether they are safe or not depends on the brand, as each has their own recipe. However, we would recommend that you err on the side of caution and keep them away from your silicone companions, or at least wash off the lube immediately after use.

What Makes Anal Lube Special?

You might have heard a lot of talk about anal lube, but what actually is it, and do you need it?

Short answer, yes. While it’s a bit annoying to buy two different types of lube, we promise you that your butt will thank you.

The anus, unlike the vagina, doesn’t self-lubricate. It’s naturally pretty dry, and doesn’t secrete anything when you’re aroused. That means you need to add your own lube if you want to venture into anal masturbation or sex, and lots of it. Otherwise, you’ll end with friction and discomfort, and you could even damage the delicate tissue and around the anus. That’s a recipe for pain, bleeding, infections and all-round bad news.

Anal lube, no matter which base you go for, is thicker and often has a more gel-like than regular lube. This provides extra cushioning for anal play, and lasts longer without the need to reapply so often. Some of our favorites are Lovehoney’s Discover Anal Lube and Sliquid’s Sassy Anal Lube, which are both water-based.

Also, since the pH level of your anus is higher than the level in the vagina, anal lubes sometimes have a higher pH balance. This makes them unsuitable for using in the vagina (aka for PIV or DIV sex), which is why we recommend you buy two different lubes if you want to engage in both kinds of fun.

Now For the Fun Lubes

Our Pick: JO Gelato Tiramisu Lube

Flavored Lube

Flavored lube is pretty ubiquitous these days, and there are literally thousands of flavors available. You can get lube that tastes like everything from Cherry Vanilla to Salted Caramel to Cotton Candy!

They’re perfect for adding to your blowjob kit for some fresh and tasty oral. In fact, some even contain menthol to give your mouth a tingly, tantalizing feeling.

However, you should absolutely avoid using them in the vagina or on the vulva! Flavored lubes are sweet and contain glycerine (as well as other sweetners) that disrupts the pH balance of your vagina. You can read more about in the ‘what to avoid’ section below.

Our Pick: Sliquid Organics Natural

pH-Balanced Lube

Speaking of pH, let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum. There are many, many women who struggle with maintaining a healthy vaginal environment, and who suffer from bacterial and yeast infections.

If you’re one of them, you might benefit from a specially pH-balanced lube. A healthy vagina has a slightly acidic pH value between 3.8 and 5. For comparison, water has a neutral pH of 7. The acidic environment protects the vagina from pathogens and infections.

More and more brands are offering lubes with lower pH values, which could help maintain that all-important acidic balance. Many also contain aloe, which can soothe and help with dryness, too.

Our Pick: Waterslide CBD-Infused Lube

CBD Lube

Now, for a controversial one. CBD, if you didn’t know, is short for cannabidiol, one of the chemical components of the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, it doesn’t get you high, but it has potential anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory properties.

There is very little CBD research available right now, but many vulva-owners who have tried out CBD lube swear by its ability to reduce pain and discomfort during sex, perhaps by relaxing the muscles and increasing blood flow.

Of course, this is all anecdotal, but if you’re interested, it could be worth trying. At the moment, most CBD lubes are oil-based, so you should keep in mind all of the pros and cons about oil-based lubes above. Plus, CBD lubes are unlikely to have any effect on the penis, other than lubricating it.

What To Avoid in Lube

Not all lubes are created equally. Even within the different types of lubes, ingredients and composition can vary a lot. To top it off, it’s often pretty unclear about what we should be looking for or avoiding.

But, don’t fret! Almost every online sex toy store does list the ingredients of the lubes they stock (and if they don’t, well, don’t shop there). All you have to do is take a look below and avoid lubes with the following ingredients…

Glycerin

Glycerin is a sweetener, or, more accurately, a sugar alcohol, that is an incredibly common ingredient in lube. This is especially true for water-based lubes, as the glycerin acts as a humectant that seals in moisture and keeps the lube wet for longer.

The research around glycerin and lube is inconclusive. Some studies have found links between using lube with glycerin and increased risk of yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, while others refute this link entirely. However, there is lots of anecdotal evidence around that avoiding lubes with glycerin helped people’s chronic vaginal pH issues. If you’re concerned, a couple of fantastic glycerin-free lubes we love are Sliquid H2O and Sliquid Silk.

Alternatively, try looking for lubes with aloe vera, like AH! YES Organic Water-Based Lube. Often, water-based lubes labelled as ‘organic’ or ‘plant-based’ will contain aloe vera instead of glycerin. These may dry out a bit quicker, but the slipperiness is easily reactivated with a touch of water or saliva.

Parabens

Parabens are a type of preservative often used in lube with a complicated reputation. Some link them to hormone disruption and even cancer, though the FDA hasn’t acknowledged any connection. While we wait for more solid research evidence, you might prefer to avoid lubes that contain parabens, like any lube from Sliquid’s range.

However, since they are there to make lubes last longer, your paraben-free lube might go bad quicker than you expect. Make sure to keep any eye out for any changes in consistency, stickiness or color, which mean you should probably throw it out.

Petroleum Oils

Yes, this includes Vaseline and baby oil! While they might feel super smooth and silky, petroleum oils can often end up doing more harm than good. They stick around in your vagina or anus for a long time, forming an impenetrable waterproof barrier on the skin and mucosal tissue that can incubate bacteria and alter your pH.

Petroleum oils aren’t found in many lubes anymore, but take this as your warning against using any as a makeshift lube replacement!

Essential Oils

While Gwenyth Paltrow and her cronies at Goop might say it’s fine to put essential oils in your vagina, the truth is quite the opposite. Essential oils can cause all kinds of damage to your vaginal environment — just ask the woman who was left with permanent scarring after soaking a tampon in them! Undiluted essential oils, especially, can cause pain, burning and scarring, and can kill off the good bacteria that keep your downstairs healthy.

And, just in case you were in doubt, you don’t need to ‘freshen’ or ‘sweeten’ the natural aroma of your vagina. A healthy vagina doesn’t smell like flowers or tea tree or any other fragrance, and if yours smells really funky, take a quick to your doctor to sort it out the right way.

Numbing Agents

I’m mostly talking about anal lubes with this one, specifically ones that are meant to numb, ‘desensitize’ or ‘relax’ the anus. The most common numbing agents are benzocaine and lidocaine, though there are others around.

We’ve written a whole other post about the dangers of anal numbing lube, but the short version is that you could end up seriously injured when using them! Pain is a very important indicator from your body, especially with anal play, as it tells you that you’re not ready and should stop or slow down.

Anal sex should never be painful, and you might have to do quite a bit of warming up before you can take the size you want. If you try and take a shortcut with anal numbing lube, you could end up with bruising, tearing, bleeding and other nasty, more permanent problems. Instead, take it slow and use a good regular anal lube instead.

What Can I Use Instead of Lube?

After everything I’ve covered in this post, you may not be surprised to hear that I don’t recommend using non-lube products as lubes for sex.

Across the internet, there are lots of lube alternative suggestions, as well as things to avoid. However, it’s usually not a great idea to put things inside of you that weren’t designed to go there. While it might make things more slippery, you don’t what other effects it might be having.

One common suggestion is aloe vera gel, which is probably the most harmless. Just make sure that it is 100% pure aloe vera, with no added ingredients like alcohol! Other popular suggestions are virgin coconut oil and olive oil, which I again advise checking for other ingredients first. Plus, these will have the same drawbacks as oil-based lubes, namely that they can stay around too long, and will destroy latex condoms.

A Quick Note on Osmolality

If you done any previous lube guide reading, you might recognize the word ‘osmolality’. Essentially, osmolality is a measure of how quickly a lube will dry out. Since it’s about the movement of water between the lube and your cells, it only applies to water-based lubes.

Water-based lubes can have a very low osmolality, meaning that too much moisture will move from the lube into the cells around it, eventually causing them to burst. This can be a real problem if you’re trying to conceive, as it could kill the sperm before they reach their destination. Or, lubes can have a very high osmolality, in which case it is sucking moisture out of your cells, leaving you dry and at greater risk of infection.

What you want for great sex is a mid-point between the two! However, in reality, this isn’t very useful to know because most lubes don’t actually list their osmolality. So, your best bet is to read the reviews and see how quickly others thought it dried out.

Otherwise, you can avoid the issue altogether by using a silicone- or oil-based lube. Hybrid lubes are also an option, though there’s next to no evidence about how osmolality affects the water-based element of hybrid lube.