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The right type of lube for whichever kind of sex you're having

I believe it was Colin Powell who said, “Trust is the glue that holds people together, and is the lubricant that keeps an organization moving forward.” I’m certain he was not talking about the gooey stuff you get in the unmentionables aisle in your local drugstore. But I still think the impassioned statement works when we’re talking about sex — which also holds people together, if you will, moving forward toward a goal. Lube really does keep us moving forward, and it’s a super underrated bedroom accoutrement, mostly because people aren’t aware of its versatility.

There are more flavors of sex than ice cream — PornHub confirms this. And for every variation of it, there’s a lube out there designed to make it better. “Water-based, oil-based, silicone, and natural are the main types of lubricant you can use for any sexual activity,” says Karyn Eilber, associate professor of urology, obstetrics and gynecology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and founder of Glissant, a sexual lubricant company. Natural lubrication includes aloe, coconut oil, and almond oil. If you do opt for a natural lube, make sure you or your partner(s) don’t have any nut allergies.

Any lubricant — natural or not — has the potential to irritate your tissue, so always apply a few drops on your forearm to make sure there is no immediate sensitivity, says Heather Jeffcoat, a doctor of physical therapy that specializes in treating women, men, transgender and non-binary folks with painful sex. She talks about lube every day with patients, and she even wrote a book on achieving pleasurable sex for those who find it more challenging — so she truly knows her stuff.

Eilber adds there is evidence that suggests glycerin, a common ingredient in lubricants, can cause yeast infections because it's got a similar chemical makeup to sugar. “Using vaginal lubricants with a pH higher of 4.2 may cause bacterial vaginosis, which is an overgrowth of vaginal bacteria. Parabens and phthalates, also common ingredients in a lot of lubes, can cause vaginal irritation,” she says. “Although the tissue is different, the drop test is a good indication of overall sensitivity or allergy to the lubricant. So if your skin gets red or itchy, do not use it,” she says.

In the interest of pointing you, your genitals, or your fingers in the right direction, I split up the rest of the lube advice on four types of sex.

Masturbation

Masturbation is a huge stress reliever and lube can make it an especially fun, relaxing journey. “Water-based lubricant can be used for any type of masturbation, and they tend to be less irritating than other types of lubes,” Eilber says, adding that water-based lubricants also generally clean up the easiest. This is good to know in case you’re not trying to leave a mess after a midday “self-care” sesh.

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A toy company that I like, TENGA, sent me a bottle of their Hole Lotion, though it’s made only for masturbation — the aforementioned “hole” refers to the sheath-like toys you use with it. “Any lubricant can be used for penile or vaginal masturbation, but silicone-based lubricants may damage silicone toys and are more difficult to wash off,” Eilber adds.

Penis-Vagina Sex

First things first: If you’re using a condom, know that oil-based lubricants are not compatible with them. Other than that, the lube world is basically your smorgasbord. Eilber does suggest using lubricants with a pH of 3.8 to 4.2 for vagina-havers — since that is the pH of a healthy vagina. “And unlike the anus, the vagina is capable of creating its own lubrication, so lubricants containing ingredients that promote natural lubrication such as hyaluronic acid and l-arginine, are preferable,” she says.

If you do have trouble getting wet for any reason, or your vaginal lubrication doesn’t last very long, Jeffcoat also suggests a thick, gel-like water-based lubricant like Slippery Stuff or Uber Lube. “If the vaginal or anal lining is dry, it tears more easily during sexual activity and this increases the risk of sexually transmitted infections,” Eilber says.

People may not know what to try, since there are so many options. CBD and THC lubes have been marketed wildly, as of late, with claims that cannabis can help increase blood flow. The science for all that is flimsy as of right now, but people seem to enjoy the lubes and it doesn’t appear to get you stoned or harm you in any way.

Anal Sex

Everyone has a butt. Thus, everyone has the capability to partake in a bit of peach entry from time to time (or all the time, if you’re lucky). “Any lubricant that be used vaginally should be able to be used with anal sexual activity as well, and without the concern for a certain pH,” Eilber says, adding that it’s important to remember that the anal canal does produce natural lubricant, so frequent reapplication may be necessary.

Of the many experts I spoke to, all suggested the same thing: a silicone-based — and I concur. “Lubrication for anal penetration needs to be longer lasting since it doesn’t lubricate like vaginal tissue. Pjur’s Back Door, which is silicone-based, works well for this,” she tells me.

It’s also important to note that certain kinds of toys warrant specific types of lubes — silicone lubes should not be used with silicone toys, Eilber tells me. A suggestion for people who are using their fingers, thicker is also the way to go. “Using a thicker gel for digital play is nice, so you can get the lubricant where you want it. Lubricants that are too liquid tend to go everywhere you don’t want it to,” Jeffcoat says.

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Oral Sex

I know all of you just read “oral sex” and said, “Huh?” But around these parts, we like to cover all bases (with lube, ha). So I asked both doctors an honest question: Does anyone use lube for oral sex? I got different answers from everyone, as this is a semi-ridiculous question.

“I can say not a single friend nor patient has ever reported this as a positive,” Jeffcoat says, And I’m going to remind you to hear that she talks about lube with people every day.

As a counterpoint, Eilber is all for lube as an enhancer for oral sex if you enjoy it. She says CBD could be a fun thing to try, since consuming CBD has proven beneficial for some people. Oh, and oral sex is why probably why some lubricants are flavored, which I only just realized while writing this sentence, regardless of the painful ubiquity of flavored condoms. I sampled the Glissant CBD oil-based lube by myself, and while her current line is formulated mostly for women, I enjoyed how relaxed it made me feel.