What Is Lube?

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Lube (short for “personal lubricant”) is a liquid or gel used to reduce friction and irritation during sexual activity. Lube can be useful during most any type of sex, including penis-in-vagina penetration, anal sex, sex toy play with or without a partner, and masturbation. While many people produce their own natural lubricant, it’s not always enough, and the addition of lube can make sex more enjoyable.

Humans have been using personal lubricants for centuries, as long ago as 350 BCE, when olive oil was the lube of choice.Manufactured lube hit the market in 1919 with the introduction of KY Jelly, which was originally created to be a surgical lubricant. 

Types of Lube

There are many types of lube, which fall into thee broad categories.

  • Water-based: Safe to use with condoms and sex toys, easy to clean, and gentle on skin, but may not last as long as other types of lube
  • Silicone-based: Safe to use with condoms, but unsafe to use in conjunction with silicone sex toys or diaphragms; less sticky and but lasts longer than water-based lube
  • Oil-based: Unsafe to use with condoms or sex toys, as oil can break down latex and interfere with the effectiveness of condoms. Oil-based lube, such as coconut oil or petroleum jelly, can be used for some sex involving skin-to-skin contact.

How It Works

Lube works by reducing friction during sex, making vaginal and anal penetration and masturbation (either alone or with a partner) easier, more enjoyable, and less likely to cause irritation. Though once considered a product for women in menopause to counter vaginal dryness resulting from decreased levels of estrogen, lube has become widely accepted and encouraged for sexual use at all ages. 

Lube is especially helpful in conjunction with condom use, since it reduces friction, and therefore the risk of breakage that may result in an unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection. It's even recommended for use with pre-lubricated condoms, since it allows partners to control the degree of slipperiness and adjust it to their preferred level of comfort.

When using lube along with external (previously referred to as “male”) condoms, apply it to the outside of the condom—not directly on the shaft of the penis. With internal (formerly referred to as a “female”) condoms, you may want to apply lube both inside and outside the condom for greater comfort, regardless of whether it is pre-lubricated.

Safety

In general, lube is considered a low-risk product. However, there is research to suggest lube with high osmolality (the concentration of particles and minerals in a liquid) might damage the top layer of vaginal and anal tissues. Any time tissue is torn or damaged during sex, the risk of transmission of a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV, increases.

At the same time, lube can help to prevent tears in skin by reducing friction and rubbing. There are also certain lubricants that are considered fertility-friendly for couples trying to conceive, such as Pre-Seed. For most people, the benefits of using lube outweigh any potential risk.

A Word From VeryWell

Despite being widely available in pharmacies and big-box stores, there is some confusion about lube, ranging from thinking it’s only for women in menopause to the idea that there’s something wrong with someone who's unable to get "wet enough” during sex on their own. Instead, think of lube as something that not only makes sex more enjoyable and comfortable, but also safer.

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