If you’ve shopped for lube lately, you probably know that there are a lot more options available today than just ye olde KY or Astroglide. Options are good, we like options, but sometimes all those options can be confusing. What is the difference between water-based, hybrid, silicone, and cream lubes? Does it really matter which you use? What’s up with the “paraben-free” and “glycerin-free” on the bottles? It’s ok- I understand. There’s a lot going on, and you just wanna get to the gettin’ it on. You might want to grab a snack though, this is gonna be a bit of a long one.
So let’s start with the basics, the four main types of lube: water-based, silicone-based, hybrid, and oil-based. Water-based lubes are going to be the most versatile of the bunch. Water based lubes come in a wide variety of textures, from thin and watery (perfect for masturbation sleeves and donning male chastity devices ), through ones which mimic natural body fluids, to thick and gel-like (good for toys and butt play as they provide more cushion and stay-put better). Water-based lubes will absorb into the body and/or dry during use, but a quick spritz of water or a little saliva will quickly revitalize them. Water-based lubes can also be found in warming/cooling formulas for those who like a little more sensation in the mix, and this is also where most flavoured lubes are as well. I’m particularly fond of the Sliquid Sea or Oceanics for my all-purpose lube, and the Sizzle or Sensation for a warming/cooling (which I feel as cooling). Good Clean Love makes my favourite water-based gel style lube, hands-down. Flavours have never really been my thing, but I will say that the Sliquid Swirl lubes are the best I’ve found, the Green Apple and Cherry Vanilla both being almost tasty enough to consider putting atop ice cream. Fun fact- the Swirl flavours were originally based off Jolly Rancher candy flavours.
Silicone lubes are super long-lasting, uber-slick, waterproof workhorses of the lube world. These also come in a few textures, though not as wide a variety as found in water-bases. Also used by latex enthusiasts to aid in wearing as well as to shine skin-tight latex attire, a little bit goes a lo–ng way with these. The caveat with silicone lubes though is an important one- silicone lube is NOT compatible with silicone toys. Like dissolves like, and nothing is sadder than your favorite toy going weird. How to tell if your lube is silicone? Look for product names like “platinum” or “silver”, and ingredients that end in -cone. Not sure about your toys? You can always cover a toy in a condom (unlubed, most condoms these days are lubricated with silicone lube unless specifically marked as water-based), tie the condom off over the base, and you’ll be safe. Silicone lubes are taste-less, though the texture can be pretty strange in the mouth. I say it’s like eating butter, but apparently that idea is gross to a lot of people? So maybe it’s more like a spoonful of olive oil. That sounds pretty naff to me too, really. It coats your mouth in a strange way that I don’t like, but apparently some folk do. I was a silicone lube devotee for most of my sexually active life, that was until I discovered better butt lube (more on that in a few paragraphs). The Pjur Gel was my favourite silicone lube for a long time, but the newer ÜberLube has become just as much of a go-to lately. Just be careful, silicone lubes can be super slippery so spills and dribbles on a hard floor can be dangerous, and if you have round twisty style doorknobs, you can get locked on the wrong side of the door. Not that I’d know anything about that…
Hybrid lubes are the most relatively new lubes on the market, though they’ve been around for a while now. These are a creamy blend of water-based lube with a small amount of silicone blended in to create a very soft and smooth lube experience. Often labeled as “silk” lubes, they were originally created with treating vaginal-dryness in mind. While these do contain a small amount silicone, they are generally safe with silicone toys due to the process of combining with the water-base, however you can use a condom over the toy if you are uncertain. Unfortunately, hybrid lubes often have a very bitter acrid taste to many individuals. I’ve never been a huge fan of these, though I know many who absolutely swear by them. Liquid Silk was probably the most widely recognised hybrid lube until it was taken off the US market in the mid-aughts, and also the worst tasting of the lot. I’ve found the Sliquid Organics Silk to be the “best” tasting hybrid I’ve tried to-date, but that’s not to say that it still doesn’t taste weird and numb my tongue a little.
Oil-based lubes are also super long-lasting like silicone lubes. They don’t dry out, and they are nice and slick against the skin. Oil lubes can cause some issues with vaginas, clogging pores for some or altering the pH which can lead to infection. Oil lubes are also a no-go with latex and polyisoprene (condoms, gloves, oral dams, inflatable toys) but can be safely used with FC2, nitrile gloves, polyurethane condoms and/or polyurethane dams. Oil based lubes might not be good for vaginas, but they are just dandy with butts and penises and toys and for eternal-plumbing masturbation. Anal fisting? Oil lubes are one of the best-ever things for it. There’s a reason all those crisco-as-lube jokes exist! (Please stick with actual sex lube though and leave the butter, olive oil, peanut butter, nutella, and even coconut oil in the kitchen.) Butt toys and anal sex? Oil lubes eclipse water-bases by far, particularly since most good butt toys are silicone the use of silicone lubes is out of the question without condom-ing the toy, which doesn’t always work depending on shape/size/style. Oil lubes also come in a variety of sensations including warming (with capsaicin or menthol) and cooling (with menthol). I personally have switched over to using oil based cream lubes for anal play almost exclusively now, and my rear end is so much happier (and greedier) for it. What once was an impossible or uncomfortable toy suddenly becomes my butt’s best friend, with a good cream lube. I’m partial to Elbow Grease or Slam Dunk, but other friends of mine are Boy Butter fans. Oil-based cream lubes (sometimes called fisting lube or male-masturbation cream) can be trickier to find sometimes, as many of the woman-oriented boutique shops don’t carry them. You’ll want to check gay-male oriented shops or places geared toward the Leather community.
So now that we’ve covered the basics a few quick notes about some ingredients to watch out for. This is where the “paraben-free” and “glycerin-free” labeling comes into play. First up- parabens. Parabens are a common preservative used in more products than you probably realise. Recent studies have caused a critical eye to be turned toward them, enough that several countries in the EU have actually banned their use in consumer products. The studies in question seem to indicate that high levels of parabens have been found present in women with breast cancer, though a direct link has not yet been established. This uncertainty has led many companies to take a more cautious approach and remove parabens from their products, and many consumers are seeking paraben-free cosmetics, personal care products, and lube. Some people also have contact sensitivities to body products containing parabens.
Glycerin is a sugar-alcohol (a type of sugar derivative) and is a common ingredient in A LOT of water-based lubricants. Glycerin has long be the go-to ingredient for water-based lubes to create long-lasting lubrocity. Glycerin and other sugar derivatives are also common sweeteners for many flavored lubes. Unfortunately, glycerin and other sugar derivatives will often cause problems for many women, especially those who are prone to UTI’s and yeast infections.
Just when I thought my guide through lube-lane was finished, I realised I’ve left out two important things: desensitising lube, and the weird powdered lubes. Shit. Ok…
Desensitising lubes are a thing that exists but which I will very very rarely suggest to anyone. You’ll find them in pretty much all the lube categories. They generally are made with benzocaine or lidocaine in them, which is the same stuff that you find in sunburn spray, treatments for teething baby’s gums, and some sore-throat lozenges. While OK in small doses, large amounts of these ingredients can be pretty risky to your health. Desensitising lube also prevents you from feeling pain, discomfort, and much of anything (same goes for any bodypart which your partner may insert into your numbing-lubed orifice). Pain and discomfort is an important signal from your body which should be paid attention to, not covered up. When do I think that these lubes are acceptable to use? A few specific instances: either when someone has a wonky nerve ending that, despite Doing It Right, prevents them for having enjoyable penetration (at which point apply the numbing agent just to that area), OR for people who are experienced in Doing It Right and are using the numbing agent as a sensation-play tool. That’s pretty much it.
This last one is weird, and there’s no other way to put it. Powdered. Lube. This is something that unless you’re part of the Leather community, gay-male community, or in the livestock veterinary business, you’ve probably never heard of or seen. Up until recently there was only one powdered lube on the market- J-Lube. J-Lube, originally a veterinary lubricant for birthing livestock, is a powdered lube that you concoct at home and allows you to make literally gallons of lube incredibly cheaply and to your personal preference. This is hands-down the single most slippery stuff on the planet, and also the stringiest thing I’ve ever encountered in my life. J-Lube completely not-vagina friendly due to being primarily sucrose, it is however great for extreme anal play. For a while I’d seen a new powdered lube popping up on shelves- Fist Powder, which from what I can tell is similar to J-Lube. I’ve not tried it, but the Mr. S folk say seem to think it’s superior to J-Lube. Interesting! There’s even a new vulva-friendly powdered lube from a company in Germany, called X Lube. Gotta say I’m lovin’ on the X Lube right now- it mixes up super easily so all you need to do is add some powder to a water-bottle, shake, and go!
So there you go. A lot of the things you wanted to know, and a few things you probably didn’t, about lube. There is so much more which can still be said about lube and comparisons to be made, but I’ll save that for another time. Of course individual reviews of my favourites are a given as well. If you made it all the way to the end of this give yourself a pat on the back, a gold star, or an extra jerk-off session. You deserve it. That was a lot.
- This is where you can use spit for lube, because you’re not really using to for lube, just to reactivate it [↩]
- A few high-end silicone toy manufacturers have come out to say that their toys are compatible with specific brands/formulas of silicone lube. I’ve seen strange things happen with silicone-on-silicone action so try that at your own risk [↩]
- Seriously, pizza cheese can’t even hold a candle to this stuff. I often wonder if it’s what they use in movies to make gut-slime and monster-snot. [↩]