Lubricant: It’s condom sense

Walk into any drug store and there is an aisle devoted solely to sexual intercourse. Different brands, different styles, different uses – the choices can be overwhelming.

The benefits of some contraceptives, such as condoms, are widely known, but what about something designed to make sex more enjoyable for both partners? Personal lubrication can do just that. Amid the sea of multi-colored boxes and flashy labels, there is some basic information that will help make navigating the rows of lubes an easy one.

Sexual lubricants are “products that give the human machine greater glide during sex, making sex more comfortable and pleasurable,” according to Go Ask Alice! (www.goaskalice.columbia.edu) a health forum run by Columbia University’s Health Promotion Program.

There are four types of lubrication sold on the market today: water, silicone, oil and petroleum-based. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, said Pamela Harris, the coordinator of health promotions and planning at University Health and Counseling Services.

Water-based lubricants are a versatile lube and Harris’ recommendation, she said.

Such lubes, like Astroglide, are safe to use with all types of protections. They will not damage condoms or any other type of latex protection and clean-up is easy, as water-based lubrications do not stain sheets or clothing.

The downside of water-based lubricants is they don’t last as long and often need to be reapplied. Also, women should be aware of water-based lubricants that contain glycerin, an ingredient that will remain smooth and slick for extended periods of time but is also a leading cause of yeast infections, according to Go Ask Alice!

Users should also avoid using water-based lubricants during sex in water, such as in the shower, where it is apt to be washed away.

The other most popular type of lube is silicone-based like Eros, the number one seller at Condom World.

“It’s silicone-based, super-concentrated and it remains really silky [throughout sex],” said Molly Johnson, a manager at Condom World on Newbury Street.

Silicone is proven to last longer than water-based lubes, thus making reapplication usually unnecessary. It can also withstand water, making it the choice for water sex. However, there are a few problems with silicone.

Silicone is difficult to clean up, it stains sheets and creates a hard to remove film on anything silicone, such as sex toys.

While water and silicone-based lubricants are the preferred products for vaginal intercourse, it is not the only capacity where lube can be used.

Petroleum-based lubes, such as Vaseline and baby oil, are not suitable for vaginal intercourse because they interact with latex poorly and can damage the integrity of the condom. This type of lube is best used for male masturbation, according to Go Ask Alice!

Oil-based lubricants are the final type and most closely resemble petroluem products. They come from natural sources, like vegetable oil, however counteract latex and should not be used with a condom.

Regardless of the style, the point of using lube remains the same.

“It’s for increasing the joy of sex,” Harris said. “There is no disadvantage to using it.”

There are many reasons why a lube should be used during intercourse.

During sex, lubrication, whether naturally produced or applied, makes sex smooth and easy. Both men and women naturally produce their own lubrication, however, for many reasons this natural lubrication may not be enough to withstand the duration of sex. A woman may not produce the necessary lubrication, a condition known as vaginal dryness, and at those times a lubrication product is helpful, Harris said.

“Vaginal dryness can happen. Anything can cause it, medication can do it, anything,” Harris said.

Some medications, like antihistimines, have the tendency to contribute to vaginal dryness.

Dryness can also be triggered by emotional factors, Harris said.

“Women get nervous. Maybe they are thinking there’s something wrong if they need lube. Women don’t lubricate themselves if they aren’t ready [to have sex],” Harris said.

Emotions can also play a larger part in the use of lubrication during sex. For some students, lubrication may still spark feelings of uneasiness, said Kevin Vesey, a senior biology major.

“Some people think there’s a stigma to using lube: ‘What, you’re not turned on enough by me?'” Vesey said.

Aside from personal pleasure, the safety benefits of using lubricant make it an essential product, Johnson said.

“The leading cause of a [condom] break is lack of lubrication,” Johnson said.

Many condoms come pre-lubricated, but consumers must be wary of a spermicide ingredient called nonoxynol-9 (N9). Recent studies by the National Institute of Health’s Office of AIDS Research suggests a connection between N9 and HIV, but there has yet to be a proved connection.

Most condom manufacturers are phasing out their use of N9, but there are still some out there on the market and consumers should be aware, Johnson said.

The latest development in the personal lubrication industry, and the most talked about as of late, are the self-warming lubes, Johnson said. Products such as K-Y Warming Liquid warm on contact and the added heat can increase sensation for many users.

“A lot of people enjoy the warming feeling, but I would almost recommend a cool lube, [because] it can only get so hot in there,” Johnson said.

A lack of sex education may contribute to lubricant ignorance, said Vesey.

“If [students] are taught it at the age when they learn [sex education] it would just be stuck in their head as fact,” Vesey said. “Do more lubrication commercials. Not just some random woman, get a spokesperson saying, ‘I use this brand.'”

In the end, using lubricant, not using lubricant or remaining celibate are personal choices. However, information spanning the gamut of sexual topics is readily available. Besides Go Ask Alice!, Web sites such as Good Vibrations (www.goodvibes.com) and My Pleasure (www.mypleasure.com) all have sex education areas. Do not be embarrassed to ask questions, advised both Johnson and Harris.

“[No question] is really weird at this job, it’s like selling shoes at this point,” Johnson said.

Harris says testing out different types of lubrication is the only way to determine what will work best for you.

“I would try different kinds. What feels good between your fingers, what tastes good, whatever feels good. It’s all very, very subjective,” Harris said.