What’s the deal with lube? Do I really need more than what’s already on the condom?

Great question! Lube is a big part of a lot of people’s sex lives, but often goes undiscussed in sex education classes. That’s a serious shame, since lube can make sex feel comfier and more pleasurable.

Don’t care about the details? Here’s what you need to know:

  • Lube can make all kinds of sex comfier and more enjoyable.
  • Lube is essential for anal sex, since the anus doesn’t make any natural lubrication.
  • Do NOT use oil-based lube with condoms. This will break the condom down and make it more likely to tear.
  • Put a drop in the tip of the condom (if you want), some on the outside of the condom/fingers/toy, and some around and inside the vaginal opening or anus.

What is Lube?

Lube (or personal lubricant) reduces friction during sex (of all kinds) to make it comfier, safer and more enjoyable. Some lubes are gels, others are liquids, and some are creams! You don’t necessarily have to use lube for sex, but some people find sex uncomfortable without it.

When people with vaginas get aroused (or turned on), their vagina and cervix usually produce some natural lubrication, which we talk more about here. This is what getting “wet” means. Different bodies make different amounts of lubrication. This is why some vagina-havers need lube and others don’t. If you have a vagina, you may find that you need lube only some of the time, or don’t need it now but do when you’re older. That’s all completely normal.

If you have a vagina, there is NO reason to feel guilty, bad or embarrassed about how much natural lubrication your body makes—whether it’s a lot, some, or barely any. Using store-bought lube is super normal and common. And even if you don’t need lube, some people find it makes sex more enjoyable anyway!

As you mention, many condoms already have some lube on them. For many sex acts, that might be plenty for you and your partner. However, if you or your partner finds sex uncomfortable or painful (or you just want to try it out), using extra lube isn’t a bad idea. It’s all about your (and your partner’s) needs and preferences.

Unlike the vagina though, the anus does NOT produce any natural lubrication. This means that using store-bought lube is super important for anal sex (with a toy, fingers or a penis). Without lube, anal sex can create lots of friction and tiny, microscopic tears. These are entry-points for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and they can make anal sex painful, which is no good. Sex should be a fun, pleasurable experience for everyone!

Types of Lube

There are three different kinds: water-based, silicone-based, and oil-based.

Water-based lubes are your safest bet if you’re not sure where to start. They don’t break down condoms or toys and they’re easy to wash off. They also don’t stain sheets, are easy to clean up, and are usually cheap. However, water-based lube doesn’t last as long as silicone-based lube, so you may have to re-apply it more. It’s also no help in the shower (it’ll rinse right down the drain) and can be sticky.

Not all water-based lubes are clearly marked. To double check, look at the ingredient list. Water should be one of the first ingredients. If you see “silicone,” “petroleum,” or “oil,” it is NOT water-based.

Silicone-based lubes ruin silicone toys, but they’re safe to use with condoms. Silicone-based lube also lasts longer than water-based, so you don’t have to re-apply it as often. Some people like that it feels silky and **luxurious**. It also doesn’t rinse off in water—which is great for shower sex but annoying to clean up—and isn’t as sticky. Most silicone-based lubes are clearly labeled, but look for “silicone” in the ingredient list if you’re unsure.

Oil-based lubes should NOT be used with condoms. The oil breaks down the latex, and can make your condom tear, putting you at risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and potentially pregnancy. Since it sounds like you’re using condoms (which is great!), stay away from oil-based lubes. This means no Vaseline/petroleum jelly, cooking oils, coconut oil, baby oil, or body lotion. Very few products marketed as personal lubricants are oil-based. Even if you don’t use a condom, oil-based lubes can still trap bacteria and cause infections, and they can stain bed sheets.

If you have sensitive skin or allergies, look for lubes with shorter ingredient lists and spot test it on your wrist or some other exposed skin.

Where to Get Lube

You can buy lube at most drugstores in the “family planning” or “sexual health” aisle, or online. It can be as cheap as $5, though some can get pretty pricey (especially silicone-based ones). You can also get free packets of lube at many community health clinics and Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center.

How to Use Lube

Some people with penises like to put a drop inside the tip of the condom before putting it on to increase sensitivity. If you’re having penetrative sex, you can put a little on the outside of the condom, around the vaginal opening or anus, and just inside the vagina or anus. For fingers and toys, it’s the same basic idea.

Saliva (spit) is usually enough for oral sex, but it’s completely safe to use store-bought lube if you want to—it just might taste bad. You can use flavored lubes (and condoms!) to help. Just be careful if you have a vagina—many flavored lubes have sugars and other ingredients that can lead to infections if you have sensitive skin or don’t wash it all out of your vagina.

You can’t technically use too much lube, but some people find that using a LOT decreases sensitivity and makes sex less pleasurable. Start with a little and build up to a point that works for you and your partner.

If you have any other questions or need free condoms, lube, birth control, or STI testing or treatment, you can make a free, confidential appointment at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. We provide free, comprehensive, LGBT-inclusive healthcare to 10-22 year olds in NYC.

A version of this post was originally published in September, 2017.