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Water You Gonna Choose?

Dear Sexpert: In one of the bags of condoms in my dorm, I noticed that there were samples of water-based lube and silicone-based lube. Can you give me the lowdown as to when or why I might choose one versus the other? —Lube N00b


Hello Lube N00b,

I sometimes think this column should be called “It Depends,” because it feels like that’s usually the best and most accurate answer to every question, this one included. In this case, the right decision(s) can be found at the intersection of “What are you using it for?” and “Who are you using it with?” I’ll work on developing a flow chart, but in the meantime, here is the tl;dr of lube.

A water-based lubricant is arguably the most versatile option. You can use it with most condoms and sex toys without issue, and it’s easy to clean off. But it has two or three main drawbacks. First, you’ll probably have to re-apply it more often than other types of lube, since the water will evaporate and the lube will dry up. Second, if you’re having sex in the shower or another wet environment, it will be washed away. And third, some, though not all, water-based lubes, especially flavored ones, contain glycerin, which can cause anything from mild irritation to yeast infections and UTIs. So be sure to check the list of ingredients.

Silicone-based lubricants do not need to be re-applied as often and work well in wet environments. in addition, many users say that silicone-based lube is thicker and more slippery than water-based lube. On the other hand, it’s harder to clean off than water-based lube, and it will cause silicone sex toys to erode and fall apart. (Though if it’s a silicone sex toy that an external condom might fit over, you can circumvent the silicone-on-silicone issue. Huzzah!)

Some people use oil-based lubrication, such as baby oil, coconut oil, mineral oil, or lotion. One nice thing about this option is that you can use it for other things, like massages or mutual masturbation. This can also be a better option for folks who have experienced irritation from other types of lube. But beware: oil-based lubes and latex condoms are not friends. The oil reduces the elasticity of the latex, putting you well on your way to a broken condom. So, if you find yourself using oil-based lubrication, you’re better off using a non-latex condom. 

In any case, your friendly neighborhood Sexpert is happy to hear that you’re thinking about these things and hopes this has been a reasonable review of your options. Ultimately, of course, it will come down to what is most comfortable for you and/or your partner(s). You can spot-test a lubricant by putting a small amount on the back of your hand to see how it feels and how you react to it. And once you select the option you and your partner(s) prefer, use it frequently and liberally. May you use this information safely, consensually, and pleasurably—and most of all, well-lubricated. 

Back to Sexpertise Information contained in Sexpertise is intended solely for general educational purposes and is not intended as professional medical advice related to individual situations. Always obtain the advice of a qualified healthcare professional if you need medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment. Never disregard medical advice you have received, nor delay getting such advice, because of something you read in this column.