Footnote: Choosing Lube
When I interviewed Cynthia Fine, Community Health Educator at Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, a few months ago about painful sex, we had a great, in-depth conversation about not only pain during intercourse, but sexually transmitted infections; the importance of creating a positive, supportive atmosphere if you’re having sex; good communication; and a whole raft of other topics. I had a lot to say and only a little bit of space to say it in, and inevitably, I left something important out. I want to fix that by saying a few words about choosing a good lubricant.
Believe it or not, your choice of lube can indirectly influence your rate of STI transmission. If things aren’t properly lubricated during intercourse, either vaginal or anal, you get more friction, and with more friction comes a higher risk of microabrasions—tiny tears in the tissue of your genitals. Ow. Naturally, tiny tears mean more risk of fluid transmission, which puts you and your partner at higher risk for swapping bugs.
In order to protect yourself and your partners, as well as have a better experience overall, here are some general guidelines for picking lube:
- Don’t be shy: get lube. Cynthia was very specific about this. Don’t use petroleum jelly, hand lotion, or, as she puts it, whatever “crazy stuff that you had around the house.” You want personal lubricant, which you can find in the “health and personal care” sections of any supermarket. Using stuff that isn’t explicitly designed for sex increases the risk of something going wrong.
- Using condoms? Get the right type of lube. If you’re using latex or silicone condoms, your safest bet is a water-based lube. Look on the packaging of your lubrication—it should say whether it’s water-based or something else (like oil- or silicone-based). Never use anything oil-based (like Vaseline) with latex condoms, because that can severely weaken the condom and increase its chance of breaking. Also, never use silicone-based lube with silicone condoms, as the lube can break down the silicone, again weakening the condom. (Incidentally, this is also why you don’t want to use a silicone lube with silicone sex toys.)
- When in doubt, go simple. Any supermarket is going to sell K-Y Jelly or a store brand version, which is a pretty standard water-based lube. You can get usually get a 4-oz. tube for about $5. This isn’t your top-of-the-line lube—it has a tendency, for instance, to dry out and get tacky—but if you need a reliable water-based lubricant, it’ll do the trick. It’s far better to have a bottle of K-Y than something from the kitchen or no lube at all.
- “Lubricated” condoms rarely cut it. If you’re using external condoms, it may be tempting to think that because it says “lubricated” on the box or wrapper, you’re good to go. Don’t. The lube on lubricated condoms tends to be insufficient, and if you’re only relying on that small amount of pre-provided lubricant, then once it’s gone, you’re in a bit of a sticky situation (so to speak). Even if you’ve had success with lubricated condoms, it doesn’t hurt to keep a bottle of lube nearby, just in case.
I’ll have more to say about lube and condoms in the near future, but for now, choose your lube wisely, and you’ll be well on your way to sex that’s both safer and more fun.