According to Dr. Hoskins, the practical purpose of lubricant during sex is that it decreases discomfort and chance of injury. When dry body surfaces are rubbed together, the skin can break — and, broken skin increases the risk of sexually transmitted infections. Lube can help prevent that breakage (though it's definitely not a substitute for a condom). Plus, she says, "It increases the sensation of pleasure, and makes penetration or external stimulation much easier."
During arousal, female bodies create natural lubricant. But, there are many factors that come into play in addition to arousal, such as hormones and age, and a need for lube does not mean that someone is not aroused. Many women find that using lube helps supplement what their bodies produce to maximize comfort and pleasure. While there are also taboos around using lube regarding concerns about changing vaginal pH, potentially killing sperm, and causing infection, Dr. Hoskins says none of those are true.
When it comes to choosing a lube, it's all about personal preference. "In general," Dr. Hoskins says, "silicone-based lubes are more body-friendly because they last longer, which means they won't evaporate, causing cell damage." However, silicone-based lubes are harder to wash off, and you can't use them with silicone sex toys — it'll break down the material. Water-based lubricant feels less sticky than silicone, and it doesn't last as long because it evaporates. Because it has less staying power, Dr. Hoskins says it's best to not use it for anal sex: "It may be associated with an increased rate of damage to cells, and therefore increase chances of HIV transmission." Water-based lube is also not ideal for use in water, though it does wash off more easily. Dr. Hoskins says some patients report that silicone lube irritates their skin, so again, it's all about finding what works best for your body.
If you're using something that's not working for your body, you'll know because it will feel irritated and burn. Dr. Hoskins says to wash it off immediately, and to see a doctor if you still feel a burning sensation after three to four hours. She also says to see a doctor if the area develops blisters or looks infected. (We hope you'd head to the doc in this case anyway.)
Speaking of infections, we've heard that glycerine in lube can cause yeast infections. Glycerine, a sugar alcohol compound, is often used in flavored lubes and drugstore brands. But, Dr. Hoskins says, "If a patient is prone to getting yeast infections, she may perceive that 'adding/inserting' anything into her vagina may aggravate that tendency. However, there is no scientific correlation between glycerin lubricants and yeast infections."
It's important to pay attention to the ingredients in lube in general, because it doesn't have to be FDA approved. There are many natural and organic brands available, and like everything you put in your body, we recommend knowing what's in it and what it does. Let us know how you feel about incorporating lube into your sex life, and if you have a go-to brand, don't keep it a secret — we can all benefit from your lube knowledge.
Emily & Tony Personal Naturally Hydrating Lubricant, available in late summer 2013 at Emily & Tony.