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Personal lubricants- why do i need one and which one do i choose?

What personal lubricant do i choose and why?

Basics

The vagina  has a dense supply of blood vessels and produces mucus that protects against harmful bacteria. The lining of the vagina is a “mucous membrane”.  This means that it secretes and absorbs fluids at a higher rate than the skin. Therefore we need to be careful with the the products we use in the vagina.  Chemicals in a vaginal lubricant might easily be absorbed into the body. 

The vagina has a naturally acidic PH level of around 3.4 to 4.5. This PH level enables the vagina to fight off bad bacteria. If we apply products that upset this balance, we may set ourselves up for vaginal bacterial or yeast infections (eg thrush or  bacterial vaginosis).

The vaginal wall can be irritated by preservatives. Most of us have worked out we need to avoid parabens in beauty products such as skin creams and hair products.  So why would we put parabens into the vagina? (Wendee Nicole 2014)

So lets think now about the pros and cons of the 3 main categories of lubricant: water based, oil based and silicone based.

Water based lubricants

The main benefits of water based products is that they can be cheaper than other products to make.  They may be  cheaper to buy. Water based lubricants are easy to clean up;  they wash off the skin easily and linen won’t be stained. Water based lubricants are widely available in pharmacies and supermarkets.  A good water based lubricant can mimic and feel very much like our own natural lubricant. BUT, if sex is to take place in water, a water based lubricant will wash off immediately.  A silicone based lubricant would be preferable.  Water based lubricants are safe to use with latex condoms or condoms made with non latex polyurethane.

 But remember that water needs to be thickened so that it can be applied easily.  The thickeners might be glycerine or propylene glycol. In higher concentrations these will draw water out of the vaginal wall by osmosis.  So ironically, this might lead to drying of the skin. Glycerine has been associated with increased risk of yeast infection.  (glycerine is added to make a water based lubricant taste slightly sweet and therefore more pleasant).

Water based products also need preservatives which most commonly might be parabens. Parabens prevent bacterial growth in personal care products thus preserving the shelf-life of the product. Parabens have been known to cause allergic reactions in some people.  Look for these listings on the ingredients if you are concerned: methylparaben, propylparaben or butylparaben. If these parabens are not listed then you’re safe to buy.

 Other preservatives that might be safer are:  sorbic acid, sorbates, phenoxyethanol and benzoic acid.   The Yes Organic intimate product company writes about phenoxyethanol as the safest preservative and they use it in their water based products.

Citric acid in the ingredients will be there to help achieve the correct acidic, vaginal PH value of 3.5 to 4.5.

Why would i choose an organic water based lubricant?

There are many, many water based products on the market all vying for your dollar. You will notice that many claim to be organic. When you look at the ingredients there might be guar gum, flax extract, kiwifruit extract and other plant based products included to add thickness and glide to the product.  Perhaps it might make sense to choose organic if you don’t want any possibility of residual pesticide passing into your body from non organic natural products.  Organic lubricant might be more expensive. 

You will also notice perfumes and flavours in some products. Again, it is for you to decided if you want these added ingredients.

So when choosing a good water based product, buy from reputable places. Perhaps go online and read the small print, or to a sex shop where staff are often very knowledgable. Or ask us! Be prepared to try a few out. Some are thicker, some are thinner, some are stickier, some are just perfect for you.

So, read the ingredients and make your informed choice for the perfect water based lubricant. 

Silicone based

Silicone based lubricants do not need added ingredients beyond just silicone. Silicone is an inert substance which doesn’t allow the growth of bacteria so preservatives don’t need to be added. Silicones are naturally thick so thickeners don’t need to be added. 

Silicone based products may be a little bit more expensive, but a small amount goes a long way because it doesn’t need to be re-applied: it will not dry out.  It does not get absorbed into the skin.   It does leave a very fine coat on the skin even after washing which is not unpleasant. It is therefore suitable for use for sex in water.

One of the big drawbacks of silicone based lubricants is that supposedly they can’t be used with silicone based sex toys. But there are sources pointing out that if you buy high quality silicone products, it will take many years for the silicone of the vibrator or sex toy to be degraded.  If you have any doubts, place a tiny amount onto your sex toy and you will quickly see whether it will cause issues or not.  If your silicone product does not cause damage to the tiny area you have tested, you are safe to use the silicone product with the silicone sex toy/vibrator etc. 

Oil based lubricants

Oil based lubricants can be sensual and feel great for all forms of massage. Natural oil products such as olive oil, almond oil or coconut oil can be great for all over massage and then conveniently assist sexual lubrication.  They are of course, edible. 

As a natural lubricant, olive oil has been studied as an option for women managing vaginal dryness after breast cancer. Colourless olive oil can be bought at some Pharmacies as “olive oil B.P.”

iPetroleum oil based  lubricants should not be used with latex condoms. The latex degrades quickly and the condom may break much more easily. If you use non latex condoms, then oil based is fine.  Vaseline jelly is a petroleum oil based product for example. 

IWHAT ABOUT NUMBING AGENTS:

Numbing agents are used in lubricants marketed for anal sex.  But care should be taken: the “numbing agent” is an anaesthetic: it stops any painful sensations.  There is concern that this might lead to more cases of micro tearing of the anal passage and increase risk of infection.  Why not use any ordinary lubricant so that if discomfort occurs, activity can be modified to prevent tears to the skin. 

 

Several articles were used in the writing of this blog. I would like to acknowledge:

World Health Organisation guidelines for use and procurement of additions lubricants for male and female condoms (2014)

N Wendee, Environmental Health Perspectives volume 122, number 3, 2014

Edwards and Panay, Climacteric vol 19 No 2 2016

Nursing for Women’s Health, July 2011 pages 252 to 256.,

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