When it comes to the most intimate part of your anatomy, it’s important to know the ins-and-outs of any product you put down there. UnityPoint Health OB-GYN Alex Dickinson, MD, explains the differences in lubricants and lube alternatives and when and what to use based on your life stage and sexual needs.
Lubricants & Lube Alternatives
From cooking oils to premade store-bought brands, there are a wide variety of lubricants on the market. Dr. Dickinson recommends three most often:
- Coconut oil
- Silicone-based lube
- Water-based lube
Coconut Oil as Lube
First up: coconut oil. For those who feel embarrassed at the thought of buying lubricant, Dr. Dickinson says this type is a good lube alternative and the easiest to purchase discretely — i.e. you won’t have to worry about running into your neighbor in the checkout line with this one.
“It lasts the longest and creates less mess than other types of cooking oils — like olive oil,” she says. “But it can still stain your bed sheets.”
Dr. Dickinson says coconut oil also acts as a natural antimicrobial and antifungal but using too much at once can lead to infections such as bacterial vaginosis or yeast. Another word of advice, it’s best to avoid coconut oil-based lubricants when using condoms because they can degrade the latex causing questionable protection.
A second type to consider for extra lubrication are silicone-based products.
“These are good lubricants for people with sensitivities, because they’re hypoallergenic. In addition, silicone-based are safe lubes for condoms. However, use caution when integrating silicone-based lube with sex toys in the bedroom. They can degrade other silicone products. As the silicone toy degrades, it can easily harbor bacteria and lead to infection,” Dr. Dickinson says.
Dr. Dickinson’s least favorite lubricant to recommend are those that are water-based.
“They last the shortest amount of time and can cause discomfort if they dry up,” she says.
However, water-based lubricants are safe to use with condoms and sex toys. K-Y, the popular store-bought brand, is an example of a premade lubricant that comes in many varieties with most being water-based.
Vaginal Dryness and Lubricants
Dickinson says there a handful of scenarios where people would be interested in trying lubricants — the most frequent she sees are for vaginal dryness experienced in women. Common conditions that can lead to vaginal dryness include:
- Perimenopause or Menopause
- Surgical menopause (For example, from an oophorectomy — when the ovaries are removed.)
- Breast feeding
- Cigarette smoking
- Medications such as anti-estrogens, SSRI antidepressants, antihistamines for allergies or chemotherapy
- Lack of arousal or interest in partner (These conditions are typically treated with behavioral therapy, couples’ therapy, sex therapy or learned masturbation techniques.)
- Douching, use of soaps or other vaginal irritants
Dickinson warns that douching or putting normal body lotion on the vulva or vagina should always be avoided.
“This is a big no-no. Soaps and ‘feminine cream’ can mess with the pH of the vaginal environment and kill the good bacteria called lactobacillus. They keep things like bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections from overgrowing and causing irritation. Also, douching takes away your body’s natural moisturizing oils,” Dickinson says.
What Lubricants to Use and When
Dr. Dickinson advises on several scenarios where the type of lubrication you use makes a difference.
Stay away from silicone-based lubes with sex toys, because they can deteriorate the product. Instead, Dickinson says water-based lubricants are best here.
Depends. The lubricant needed is based on what the sexual dysfunction is — for example: hypo-arousal, lack of interest or difficulties having an orgasm (anorgasmia). Dr. Dickinson says using lubricants is a simple solution that makes sex more enjoyable.
Avoid fragrances, flavors, dyes, warming or tingling lubricants. Dr. Dickinson says make sure you don’t have a latex allergy when using condoms with lubricants or an allergy to coconut prior to using coconut oil. She also suggests trying silicone-based over water-based as they glide better and cause less friction or drying.
Lube Safe for Conception
It’s best not to use any lubricants. Dr. Dickinson says they can be your enemy if you’re trying to have a baby. They can change the pH in the vagina and create an environment that’s not great for sperm to live in. If you absolutely need to use a lubricant during sex, Dr. Dickinson recommends talking to your doctor about a product that will keep your pH balanced.
Reoccurring Vaginal Infections
Use silicone-based or water-based lubricants — but sparingly. Dr. Dickinson says not to glob them on. Also, because coconut oil is natural, it can increase bacteria and wreak havoc in the vagina when you use too much. Less is more.
Coconut oil is best for most situations. Dr. Dickinson says she recommends coconut oil for women who are out of their fertility years.
“These ladies are less likely to need to use condoms for pregnancy prevention. The drawback of the condom degrading isn’t there, which coconut oil can do. However, for post-menopausal women who aren’t in a monogamous relationship, we don’t recommend coconut oil because you cannot rely on the condom to prevent STDs,” she says.
Talking to Your OB-GYN
If you’re interested in trying lubricants for additional pleasure during sex, or because of a sexual dysfunction you’re experiencing, Dr. Dickinson reassures it’s a totally normal thing to talk about with your doctor.
“Don’t be worried about what your OB thinks. It’s more common than people realize, and we see patients with vaginal dryness and similar issues all the time. People just don’t talk about it, but it’s nothing taboo for us. We’re more than willing to discuss lubricants with you, help you come up with a solution and be that go-to person to chat about any sensitive issues that come up for you.”