When to Use Natural Oils vs. Silicone vs. Water-Based Sex Lubes (And Why It Makes a Huge Difference)

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If you’re a fan of personal lubricants for sex, you know first-hand the sensation-enhancing difference they make. If you haven’t tried them, let me tell you… whether you’re with a partner, with a toy, or on your own, lubes can add some serious yessss!! to your sexual experience. (Just sayin’.)

However new or experienced you may be, it’s important to understand the different types of lubrication, so you can fully enjoy the benefits without accidentally compromising the protective barrier of your condom, melting your sex toy, or ending up with a vaginal or anal infection.

Yep! As amazing as lubes are, they can do all these things, if you use the wrong type for the situation. Plus, you’ll obviously want to skip the harmful ingredients found in most conventional lubes.

Let’s do a quick comparison of the synthetic lubes vs. healthier lubes (natural oils, water-based lubes, and silicone).

Synthetic sex lubes

Many of the popularly branded lubricants are made with petrochemicals that can burn your genital and anal tissues. For women, they can also kill the beneficial bacteria in your vagina. Each of these situations can leave you more susceptible to STIs and other diseases. Fun, right?

They also contain glucose that converts to sugar as your body assimilates it. This sugar feeds candida, which makes your body more vulnerable to yeast infections.

And they contain parabens, phthalates, and other nasty ingredients known or suspected to cause cancer or disrupt the body’s natural hormone production.

So, that’s the bad news.

The good news is that there are highly effective personal lubricants that are completely natural, and you may already have some of them in your kitchen pantry or bathroom cabinet. While these options are completely safe for your body, they aren’t always safe for your condoms or sex toys. Let’s chat about these natural alternatives and when to use, or not use, each.

Natural, oil-based lubricants

Pure plant oils and butters, especially when organic and unrefined, provide the cleanest and most natural form of lubrication around. Melt some cocoa butter, shea butter, or coconut oil in your hand for a few seconds, then apply. Or drizzle on a few drops of olive oil, almond oil, jojoba oil, avocado oil, or grapeseed oil.

When it comes to natural lubricants, you aren’t short on options. They’re healthy, nourishing, and last much longer than water-based lubes. They’re also great for use in the shower and safe to use with most sex toys.

That said, one very important thing you need to know is that oils can break down natural latex, degrading the efficacy of a condom and making it easier to tear during intercourse. This is especially true for mineral oil (petroleum jelly, baby oil) and mineral oil-based lotions, which have been shown to degrade a condom by as much as 90% in as little as sixty seconds. Yikes!

Oils can break down natural latex, degrading the efficacy of the condom and making it easier to tear during intercourse.

But don’t fret! Natural oils and butters are only an issue for condoms. They are still a fantastic option for solo play, manual stimulation, and sex with a dedicated partner, where STI prevention (hopefully) isn’t a concern.

Water-based lubricants

When you are using a condom, you’ll want to use a naturally formulated water-based lubricant. You’ll often find aloe vera as the main ingredient. Here’s why.

Aloe vera (on its own) is sold as a juice or a gel. It is not an oil and will not degrade a condom. Aloe vera is commonly found in natural lubricants, because it emulates (to a fair degree) the natural lubrication of a woman’s vagina.

You probably wouldn’t use aloe vera gel on its own, because it’s pretty sticky. Plus, the gel sold in most stores contains alcohol and other unsavory ingredients that are not good for your va-jay-jay.

Safer ingredients you’ll find alongside aloe in water-based lubes include:

  • Citric acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), potassium sorbate, and/or sodium benzoate: These preservatives help to protect the product against bacteria and give the lube a longer shelf life.
  • Xanthan gum and/or agar agar: These are natural thickeners from plants and seaweed, respectively, and help to give the lubricant an even smoother texture.

While water-based lubricants can be used with condoms and sex toys, their downside is that they typically don’t last very long and need to be reapplied, which can sometimes mess with your mojo.

Silicone-based lubricants

Silicone-based lubes are longer lasting and even more slippery than oil-based lubes, making them especially popular for anal sex.

Silicone-based lubes don’t break down the latex in condoms, which is great. However, they do break down silicone toys. If you use silicone-based lubes with silicone sex toys, the toys will become sticky and less fun to use.

During my research, there were five ingredients that I kept seeing on the labels for (safer) silicone-based lubes. I checked them against the EWG Skin Deep Database and while they aren’t terrible, I wasn’t 100% happy with what I found.

Two of these ingredients, dimethiconol and cyclomethicone, were rated as completely non-toxic. Great. But the other three common ingredients: cyclopentasiloxane, dimethicone, and cyclotetrasiloxane, were essentially scored the equivalent of a “C”.

First, when I’m looking at the label, I don’t want to see an unrecognizable ingredient, no matter what the Skin Deep Database says. If I can’t eat it or pronounce it, I’m wary about putting it on my body, let alone in it. Also, dimethiconol vs. dimethicone and cyclomethicone vs. the other two? I can barely tell them apart and could easily mistake one for the other while shopping.

With that in mind, natural oils and water-based lubes are my preferred options. Silicone lubes are usually a healthier option, but always check the label.

Summary: Natural Oils vs. Water-Based Lube vs. Silicone

Already forgot which lube to use when? Here’s your quick summary:

  • Oil-based lube: Use with silicone sex toys, but not with condoms.
  • Water-based lube: Use with sex toys and condoms. May need to reapply often.
  • Silicone-based lube: Use with condoms, but not silicone sex toys.


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