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Lubricants. Especially as we grow older, we all should be using lube for every kind of sexual contact: partner sex, solo sex, sex-toy sex (see A Senior’s Guide to Vibrators), and any kind of sex I might not have thought to mention. Lube puts the joy back in friction. But don’t rush to the drugstore to buy the most common brands – there’s a new world of lubricants out there that are safer and healthier for aging genitals. This guide will help you choose the right one(s) to enhance your sexual enjoyment and avoid discomfort.
Why We Need Lubricants as We Age
Female bodies Our genital tissues thin as we age because of a reduction in estrogen. This makes us more susceptible to discomfort during sex. The cushioning wetness that we used to experience when we were aroused has slowed or even stopped, and we may find penetration painful during partner sex or if we’re using sex toy. Even clitoral touching can be uncomfortable if we’re dry. What a cruel trick of nature that just when we need more moisture and slickness for comfort and pleasure, our bodies are providing less natural lubrication. Lubricant supplies the wetness you’re lacking, making any kind of external or internal touching or rubbing more pleasurable.
Male bodies Whether your penis is erect or soft or somewhere in between, lubricant adds to the pleasure of stimulation for both solo and partner sex. Now that you need to be stimulated for longer, it makes getting there more comfortable. Don’t wait until penetration to use lube – it enhances the experience from the beginning.
All bodies For anal penetration, lubricant is a must. The rectum does not lubricate on its own and never did. Use plenty of lube.
How to Choose the Right Lubricant – or Lubricants
You may think that anything that feels slick will work fine as a lubricant, whether you find it at the drugstore or in your kitchen. Not so. Different categories of lubricants work best or worst for different uses – which might mean you need several.
The ABCs of Lubricant Types
Silicone lubricants are best for sensitive genitals and are recommended for penetrative sex (including anal play); they’re compatible with condoms. Silicone lubes last longer than water-based ones. Do not use silicone lube with silicone sex toys.
Water-based lubricants are compatible with latex condoms and all sex toys, but dry up quickly. Water-based lube has the highest potential risk of irritation. Many – especially those most commonly found in drugstores, such as K-Y Jelly and Astroglide – contain ingredients that can irritate the vulva and vagina, worsen pelvic pain conditions, damage the cells of the vagina and rectum and lead to infections. (See “Avoid These Ingredients” below.)
Hybrid lubes are a blend of water-based and silicone. They’re safe with condoms and usually are compatible with silicone sex toys, too. Hybrids last longer than regular water-based lubricants and are more likely to stay slick. Choose a hybrid lubricant that does not contain the harmful ingredients listed in “Avoid These Ingredients” below.
Food oils and other plant-based oils are not recommended for vaginal lubrication, especially if you are prone to bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections. They speed up the growth of bacteria in the vagina and don’t flush out easily. Unrefined coconut oil may be the exception – many people report enjoying it without ill effects. Do not use coconut or any other food oil with condoms or other latex or polyisoprene barriers – oils cause breakage.
Petroleum-based lubricants such as mineral oil or Vaseline should never be used internally since they irritate the vagina and rectal lining, promote bacterial growth that can lead to infections and do not clear out of the body easily. They’re okay for external use during male masturbation. Do not use with condoms and other latex barriers – they cause breakage.
So, silicone lube is best for sensitive genitals during partner sex with or without condoms, and during solo sex, but not if you’re using a silicone sex toy. Coconut oil is okay for silicone toys but not with condoms. Water-based lube is okay with silicone toys and condoms, but you have to make sure it passes the ingredients test. What should you do?
- Learn the ABCs of which lubes do and don’t work for what kind of use
- Learn which ingredients to avoid (see below) and read the ingredients of any lube that you buy
- Buy from local or online sexuality-products retailers that emphasize education and body-safe ingredients, have a reputation for teaching their customers and only sell products that they endorse. See the recommended retailers in the right-hand column of my blog for suggestions.
- Explore different lubes by buying samples so you can discover which work best for you. Here are some sources for sampler kits:
Ellen Barnard, co-owner of A Woman’s Touch, says older women can benefit from keeping two different types of lube on hand:
- A moisturizing lubricant for keeping the vulva and vagina healthy and slightly moisturized, such as Sliquid Organics Silk and Liquid Assets. Use daily as needed for comfort – sex or no sex.
- A sealing lubricant, which typically is made of medical grade silicone – Überlube is one example – to seal in moisture and protect the skin to prevent tearing from friction during penetrative sex.
Avoid These Ingredients
Lubricants are great, but some are made with ingredients that are bad for you, especially if you have sensitive skin, pelvic pain or susceptibility to urinary tract or vaginal infections. Read the ingredients and avoid these, according to Sarah Mueller, lube specialist at the Smitten Kitten, and Barnard at A Woman’s Touch:
- Propylene glycol
- Chlorhexidine gluconate
- Mineral oil
- Petrolatum (petroleum jelly)
“People may find that the more they use a drugstore-brand lube, the more they notice side effects like itching, burning, stickiness or delayed symptoms like increased instances of bacterial vaginosis or yeast infection,” says Mueller. “This is because many drugstore-brand lubricants contain ingredients that actually damage the mucous membranes of the vulva, vagina and rectum. Depending on the formulation, some products can negatively affect vaginal pH, kill the healthy bacteria of the vagina or cause the outermost layer of skin on a mucous membrane to die and slough off, leaving the body more vulnerable to any type of infection.”
Look for These Ingredients
Barnard recommends choosing lubricants with one or more of these ingredients (she suggests testing any lubricant on the inside of your arm first if you tend to be sensitive):
- Aloe vera, which is moisturizing – but if you’re allergic to onions or garlic, avoid Aloe vera.
- Hyaluronic Acid, a moisturizing ingredient, but not very slippery.
- Plant cellulose (it may be called hydroxyethylcellulose or cellulose polymer), which makes lubes slippery and moisturizing, and adds body.
- Vitamin E, a good skin conditioner, but too waxy to use on its own.
- Dimethicone or dimethiconol, a good sealant to keep moisture in and protect from tearing.
Here are some resources to learn more about the ingredients in lubricants:
- What’s in Your Lube? Ingredients
- Choosing a water-based lube
- Interview with Sarah Mueller at Sexational
- Interview with Ellen Barnard at Alternet
Don’t be dismayed if this seems like a high learning curve. Choose a progressive, education-focused retailer, and the job is already mostly done.
“Finding the right lube is like finding the right partner,” Mueller says. “It makes any sexual activity better, safer and more pleasurable, and is a very subjective, personal choice.
Once you’ve found your favorites, keep them within reach and use them joyfully! Apply lube slowly and erotically, making it part of your sex play. Lubricants are sexy! Their whole purpose is to enhance your sexual pleasure.
Joan Price writes the monthly Sex at Our Age post for Senior Planet, answering reader questions about senior sex topics. If you have a question for Joan, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Personally identifying information will be strictly confidential.)
Photo: Courtesy of Lucky Bloke