A few weeks ago, some friends and I got into a conversation around sexual pleasure, likes, dislikes, and everything in between. While having this discussion, I made a joke about how "lube keeps you able to go to work the next day," to which the table laughed. To my surprise, my friends had a range of opinions about whether people should use lube, what type they should use, and how some like the "feeling of rubbing" when less lube is used.
As someone who works in HIV prevention and treatment, I totally understand the importance of enjoying sex. But I also know it is even more important to make sure one is doing so safely -- and lube can play a major role in that process.
Lubrication Is a Necessary Part of the Toolkit When Discussing Safer Sexual Practices
Using lubrication during sex is important for several reasons. To begin, when having vaginal or anal intercourse, the area can sometimes be very dry. Lubrication can moisten those areas, which can allow for proper stretching of the skin and tissue when inserting toys or the penis. Lubrication also allows for there to be less rubbing and friction as the shaft is pushed deeper into the cavity.
Although some may enjoy the whole "pain as pleasure" aspect of sexual intercourse, that pain should not come at the danger of causing long-term problems in those intimate areas. When too much friction occurs because of dryness, the cavity becomes susceptible to tearing and having fissures.
Fissures are tears in the lining of the anal or vaginal cavity that can cause bleeding and discomfort during sex and increase the risk of transmitting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV. Chronic anal fissures can even require surgery, which can be quite painful during bowel movements and recovery. Lubrication also makes condoms much more effective and less susceptible to ripping and breaking because of the friction. There are specific types of lube for every condom type and body type, as lube is not just a "one type works for all."
There Are Several Types of Lubes on the Market, So It Is Important to Know Which Work Best for You
Water-based lubricants are usually inexpensive, easily washed off and work well with condoms. Water-based lube is also great for those who like to use toys, as it does not break down the material toys are made from. The one disadvantage of using water-based lube is that it doesn't last long, so you will have to reapply throughout intercourse to keep the area moist.
If water-based is not your thing, then there are silicone-based lubes. They are usually most often recommended, but will be more expensive.
Silicone-based lubricants can be used in several different environments, like the shower and bathtub, because they are waterproof. Silicone-based lubes also tend to have fewer chemicals than water-based lubricants, and they last much longer during sexual intercourse because they aren't absorbed into the body the same way that water-based lubes are.
Silicone-based lubes should not be used on silicone toys, as they can break down the material toys are made from and permanently damage them.
Both water-based and silicone-based lubricants work great with latex condoms, although you should always check the condom's instructions first -- compatibility may be different based on the brand being used.
Flavored lubricants can be great for oral sex. However, they can contain sugar, which can lead to yeast infections.
Natural lubricants are available for those who may be allergic to the chemicals that can be in water-based and silicone-based lubricants. They are usually aloe-based and can (rarely) cause allergic reactions. You need to make sure that they can be used with latex condoms, or check if the lubricant you have requires a specific condom type.
Oil-based lubricants will provide the longest-lasting feel throughout sexual intercourse. However, these are best uses by those who do not use condoms. Oil-based lubes will make condoms porous (increasing infection risk) and can cause tearing and ripping. Oil-based lubes are also harder to clean up afterwards.
Warming and cooling lubricants have become a new trend, but they need to be tested prior to engaging in intercourse to ensure they don't cause any unusual discomfort in the vaginal or anal area. Also, make sure that the lubricant you have can be used in the anal area, as some have restrictions.
Substitutes for Lube Should Not Be Used
One should not be using alternatives to lubrication such as baby oil, Vaseline, lotion or saliva. Vaseline and baby oil are dangerous because they contain chemicals that aren't meant to touch the internal parts of your skin and can break down the material of the condom, making it less effective. Saliva is another poor option: If a person has an STI in the mouth or throat, using saliva as lube could easily spread that STI.
When all is said and done, sex should be fun and enjoyable, but not at the expense of endangering your health unnecessarily. We all have varying activities we enjoy during sexual intercourse, and lubrication not only makes for less pain during intercourse, it can also prevent long-term damage to your sexual areas. So next time you are having sex, if it gets a little dry or painful, just add a little lube. It will be worth it in the long run.