9 Best Lubes for Sex—And 3 Lubes to Avoid
If you're looking for the best lubes for sex, check out these expert-recommended lubes. Plus, experts explain what lube is and what you should not use as lubrication.
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Let’s talk about sex (and lube)
Sexual intercourse includes four stages: excitement/arousal, plateau/performance, orgasm, and resolution.
Because the Big O is the main event for some people, it can be tempting to skip the first stage and jump immediately into the sex act. This is a problem, particularly for women, says Michael Ingber, MD, urologist, pelvic medicine surgeon, and assistant clinical professor of urology at Weill Cornell Medical College, in New York.
The first stage of sex provides a critical component for sex: natural lubrication. As a woman’s arousal increases, it increases blood flow to the genitals, stimulating the vagina to “get wet.”
This makes penetrative sex more comfortable and pleasurable for both partners.
In terms of arousal, a woman’s lubrication is equivalent to a man’s erection, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, OB/GYN and clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine. Yes, it’s that important.
However, sometimes women don’t produce enough lubrication on their own, due to a lack of arousal, hormonal changes, or other factors.
A dry vagina is a painful vagina, says Dr. Ingber. In some cases, having sex with a dry vagina can even cause tearing, bruising, or bleeding leading to painful sex, trauma, or injury.
This is part of the reason why sex lube was invented.
Still, you don’t need an excuse to try using lube in the bedroom, either, as there are plenty of other reasons to embrace this product.
Here’s what you need to know about lubrication, how you can use it for better sex, and the best lubes for sex to try.
What is sex lube?
Sex lube is a slippery, viscous substance used to lubricate a penis, vagina, anus, and/or toy during sexual activity.
It reduces friction on the tender skin of the genitals. It can be made from a variety of substances, but the most common are silicone or water.
To use it, apply liberally—usually to the penis head and shaft—before penetration. You can use it as a part of foreplay and reapply as needed during sex. Afterward, wipe or rinse it off.
You don’t need to use lube for oral sex, but it often helps with vaginal sex.
Lube is a must for anal sex, as the anus does not produce any lubrication on its own, says sexologist Carol Queen, PhD, co-author of The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone.
(Here’s what you need to know about having sex in your 40s.)
Warning signs you’re not using the best lubes for sex
There are lots of different types of lube, and your body may respond better to some than others. You know your lube isn’t working for you if you experience these signs:
Allergy or infection
Pain, burning, itching, rashes, hives, and/or swelling can be signs of an infection or allergic reaction.
(Here are the signs of a semen allergy.)
Sex is still uncomfortable
If your lube isn’t providing enough lubrication, is not lasting long enough, or if it causes you or your partner discomfort, it’s time to try another kind.
It’s gross to you
If your lube stains your sheets, smells funny, tastes weird, or is in any way aesthetically unpleasing to you or your partner, there are plenty of other options out there to try.
Check the ingredient list before buying lube
In general, the best lubes for sex are silicone- or water-based. These ingredients offer safe lubrication without irritation and are typically not allergenic, Dr. Minkin says.
But don’t stop at the main ingredient. The ingredients listed as “other” are just as important to consider, Dr. Ingber says.
The tender skin of the genitals, particularly the mucosa of the vagina, absorbs chemicals readily, in a way that your other skin does not. Because of this, our experts recommend avoiding the following common sex lube ingredients.
- Alcohol: These may initially feel good but later can dry out the vaginal mucosa, leading to painful sex in the future.
- Paraben or PABA: These chemicals are hormone disruptors.
- Glycerin: These can sometimes cause yeast overgrowth or infections.
- Spermicide: These can irritate skin and increase the risk of infection.
(Note: Silicone lubricants are safe for humans, but they can damage some types of sex toys over time. If you plan to use your lube on sex toys, look for ones labeled “safe for sex toys.”)
What can I use as lube?
Different vegetable oils—including olive, canola, coconut, avocado—and butter, have been used as a sexual lubricant probably as long as they’ve existed.
These lube alternatives can get the job done, and if they work for you, it’s fine to use them, but they do have some potential side effects you should know. Oils can stain sheets, go rancid, spill, cause allergic reactions, and, most worrisome, can break down the latex in condoms.
“If you are using a condom, do not use any type of oil-based lubricant, as it can interfere with the condom’s effectiveness,” Dr. Minkin says. “Water-based and silicone-based lubricants are safe to use with condoms.”
Petroleum jelly, baby oil, and mineral oil are sometimes used as sex lube, but don’t use these oil-based lubes with condoms.
In addition, she cautions that coconut oil as lube may cause some women to develop yeast infections. So these may not be the best lubes for sex.
Avoid these household products
Lotion is a common household item people sometimes use as sex lube, but shouldn’t.
Anything for hand, face, or body use—including lotions, body washes, shampoo, bubble bath, soap, etc.—are no-nos for sex, according to Dr. Ingber.
“These areas of your body are made up of squamous cells, which make a good barrier and can resist harsh chemicals,” he explains. “However, the vagina is a mucosa, which means it’s sensitive to certain chemicals and common ingredients found in these lotions.”
Another common household item to skip: plain water. Water on its own is wet, obviously, but wetness is not lubrication, Queen says.
Water doesn’t stay on the skin for long, and when it evaporates, it has a drying effect, making things even more painful, she says.
If you’re using a water-based lube, however, spritzing it with a little water can revitalize it without applying more lube, she adds.
(Here’s what you need to know about essential oils and sex.)
Best sex lubes for sex
Now that you know what to look for and what to avoid, here are some expert-recommended lubes to try.
(Note: Always do a small patch test to check for allergies or irritation before using a new lube during sex.)
Best basic lube: KY Jelly
KY Jelly is one of the best lubes for sex and is a classic go-to sexual lubricant for a reason.
It’s water-based, safe to use with condoms, and doesn’t contain colors, fragrances, or oils, so even sensitive people tolerate it well.
One downside is that it can get sticky with use. You can find it in nearly every drugstore, pharmacy, and most big-box retailers.
Best organic lube: Aloe Cadabra Natural Personal Lube
Aloe vera gel is the main ingredient of this plant-based organic sex lube from Aloe Cadabra.
Users swear by its smooth texture and comfort. Plus, it comes in unscented or three flavors (piña colada, vanilla, and peppermint) if you want to use it during oral sex.
(Here are other aloe vera uses you may not know.)
Best drugstore lube: Astroglide X
This version from Astroglide is an upgrade on the classic water-based lube. It is free from most irritating chemicals, including parabens, and has a slipperier texture than other water-based lubricants. However, this can also make it easier to spill or drip.
Best lube for women: Replens Silky Smooth
This Replens silicone sex lube designed by an MD gets rave reviews from women, particularly those who are post-menopausal. It’s gentle, hypoallergenic, and users say it feels the closest to their natural lubrication.
Best lube for anal sex: Lynk Pleasure Products Anal Lube
You don’t have to use a special sex lube for anal intercourse, but if you often do, you might want to try a lube specially formulated for this activity.
This lube from Lynk is water-based and hypoallergenic, so it won’t sting or irritate if it gets in small anal cracks or tears. Users say it lasts longer than other water-based gels.
Best lube for men: Gun Oil
This silicone-based lube comes enriched with aloe vera and vitamin E to help soothe and protect sensitive skin.
Gun Oil is hypoallergenic and water-resistant, so you can use this lube to fulfill your fantasies of sex in the shower, hot tub, pool, or ocean.
Best lube for sensitive skin: Penchant Premium Sensitive
Designed specifically for sensitive skin, this silicone-based lube from Penchant is odorless, frictionless, and feels barely there.
It’s approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning it’s gone through rigorous safety testing. (Not all lubes are FDA-approved, so if this is important to you, make sure to check before buying.)
Best undercover lube: Überlube Good-to-go Travel Lube
This Überlube silicone-based lube gets top marks for its small, discreet packaging.
It’s a small, black tube that fits in with any travel-size personal hygiene items and the spray nozzle makes it quick and easy to use on the go. It comes with one refill.
Best multipurpose lube: Durex Massage and Play
If you like to use massage oil during foreplay, you’ll love this combo lube from Durex. The water-based formulation also has aloe vera and moisturizing ingredients, so you can use it as both a massage gel and a sex lube.
Now that you know the best lubes for sex, check out what happens to your body when you’re not having sex.
- Michael Ingber, MD, urologist, pelvic medicine surgeon, and assistant clinical professor of urology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York
- Mary Jane Minkin, MD, OB/GYN and clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine
- Carol Queen, PhD, sexologist for Good Vibrations a sexual health and wellness toy retailer, and co-author of The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone