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All About Lubricants

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD, Karyn Eilber, MD, and Marianne Madsen on January 2, 2023

Sexual wellness products, including supplements, gels, toys, and other devices, are widely used by both men and women across the United States to spice up their sexual activity. One popular way to enhance sexual activity is by using lubricants or “lube.” Many adults swear by it–an Indiana University study found that 70 percent of women surveyed said that lube made sex more “pleasurable and enjoyable.”


But it’s not always used just for fun. Here’s what else lubricant can do and how to know if it might help you. 


Natural lubrication vs. artificial lubrication


Ordinarily, a woman’s vagina produces a natural lubricant, which plays a role in reducing friction and increasing comfort during sex. But in some cases, the vagina can’t produce enough of this lubricating fluid. Natural life changes such as menopause, hormonal contraceptives, breastfeeding, and certain medications, can cause dryness “down there,” leading to pain or discomfort with sexual activity. 


If this is you, you may think the ship has sailed when it comes to enjoyable sexual intercourse. But that’s not the case. Artificial lubricants can do a great job at relieving pain and dryness, and for women with chronic vaginal dryness, they can be the key to a fulfilling sexual experience.


So what types of lubricant are there?


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Vaginal Dryness - Signs and Symptoms

Vaginal Dryness - Signs and Symptoms

Types of lubricant


There are three main types of vaginal lubricants: water-based, silicone-based, and oil-based. Each type has its pros and cons.


Water-based lubricants


Water-based lubricants are the most common type of lube and are generally considered safe to use, but they don’t last as long as oil-based and silicone-based lubes so they often need to be reapplied. The consistency is most similar to natural lubrication. In general, water-based lubes are less irritating but ingredients such as glycerin should be avoided as it can make a woman more prone to infections. If condoms or silicone toys are used, water-based lubricants are the best lubricants to use with these.


Oil-based lubricants


Oil-based lubes will certainly do the trick in that they will last longer than water-based lubes, but some people avoid them since they can damage the latex in condoms, increasing the chance of a tear. Furthermore, oil-based lubricants don’t wash off as easily as water-based lubricants. 

Silicone-based lubricants


Silicone-based lubricants are becoming increasingly popular, since they’re long-lasting but these are definitely the most difficult to wash away. They are also not recommended for use with silicone toys because it can break them down and make them sticky-feeling. 


Don’t worry if you haven’t had any success with a particular type of lube. You can experiment with different varieties and see how your body reacts. 


Side effects of lubricant


Lubricants are generally safe to use, although some types can lead to unwanted side effects. Chemicals such as glycerin, parabens, propylene glycol and phthalates have been associated with unwanted side effects, so if you are sensitive it’s best to avoid these.  If you experience any irritation, discontinue the lubricant and try a different one…and remember to take caution when using oil-based lubes if you’re also using condoms. 

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