Though not everyone realizes it, a little lubricant can make many sexual experiences more enjoyable. There are more lubricants available today than ever before - and they are more widely available than ever before. And, contrary to popular belief, lubricants aren't only for people experiencing a lack of natural lubrication. Couples, singles, and young and old alike are discovering the benefits of lubricant for their sex lives. Whether to make sex more fun and sensual, to ease your way into a new sexual activity, or to remedy vaginal dryness, a lubricant is always a good thing to have on hand.

Men and women sometimes hesitate about introducing lubricants into sex, for fear of hurting a partner's feelings. Will it imply she's not responding well enough or that he's not a good enough lover? The truth is, lubricants give couples the opportunity to stay connected and create some excitement in their relationship.

Part of the fun of lubricants is experimenting with the variety of formulas available. Many people are curious about flavored lubricants, silicone lubricants and those oil-based lubricants of the good old days. (They're still around and popular with some people for their natural formulas!) Ultimately, lubricants may add to the sexual experience for a variety of reasons and choosing the right one—or more than one—is half the fun!

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Who uses lubricants and why.

Who uses lubricants? Just about everyone, at one time or another. Lubricants are a popular choice for women who may suffer from vaginal dryness or pain during intercourse as a result of hormonal fluctuations during and after menstruation; perimenopause or menopause; childbirth; breastfeeding; and simply as a result of stress, including among younger women.

Men and women may enjoy using a lubricant alone or with a partner, during masturbation or manual stimulation, or with sex toys, both for ease of penetration and because some materials dry up natural lubrication. Lubricants are also recommended for any type of anal play in men or women, including using anal sex toys and anal sex, since the anus does not naturally lubricate.

Finally, many men and women use lubricants simply because they want to or would like to or are curious. Lubricants can add novelty and variety to a sexual experience, especially the flavored and warming varieties. Lubricants are also good to have for “quickie” sex experiences, when natural lubrication might not be adequate.

Lubricant options and why oil-based lubes are unsafe.

When people consider using a lubricant for the first time, they're often not sure which one to choose from the increasingly large variety of options available. Here are some basic guidelines to get you started, though you'll probably have to experiment to discover which one is best for you.

Lubricant formulas vary from one brand to another; however, there are three main categories of lubricants: water-based, silicone-based and oil-based. Water-based lubricants are often the gentlest formulas, and are safe to use with all types of sex toys and all methods of birth control.

Silicone-based lubricants are slicker and tend to last longer than water-based formulas, however some believe that they may be more likely to cause irritation in some women and, also, they are not safe to use with silicone sex toys. Silicone lubricants are safe to use with most methods of birth control, with the exception of birth control methods that may be made of silicone (such as a diaphragm or cervical cap that is made of silicone). Silicone-based lubricants can break down silicone sex aids or contraceptives, making them unsafe for use.

Oil-based lubricants are not as commonly used, as they tend to be thicker and messier than other formulas, though some like them for their all-natural ingredients. Oil-based lubricants are unsafe to use with condoms, diaphragms or other latex contraceptives or toys, since they can break down the materials and increase the risk of pregnancy or STI transmission. This includes products such as baby oil, olive oil, and body cream.

How to use a lubricant.

Making lubricant a seamless part of the sexual experience is easy. It's good to start with a small amount of lubricant, about the size of a dime or nickel. Some people use lubricant at the beginning of the sexual experience, to encourage arousal; while others use it as they need it, later, to ease penetration or to help with vaginal dryness, or when they are using a sex toy.

Depending on the type of sexual activity you're engaging in, apply lubricant directly to the vulva, just inside the vagina or to the anus. Couples using condoms can apply lubricant to the outside of the condom, which will help with penetration and add sensation for the partner wearing the condom. (Never apply lubricant on the shaft of the penis before wearing a condom, since the condom could slip off. Lubricant should be limited to the reservoir tip of the condom.)

If using sex toys, lubricant can be applied directly to the toy or to the area of the body it's begin used on or in.

Remember, if you're using a water-based lubricant, you may need to reapply it a few times, since the body easily absorbs these formulas. Silicone-based formulas tend to last longer. Most importantly, make using a lubricant fun and give yourself a chance to get used to it.

Lubricants that are safe to use with condoms, diaphragms and cervical caps.

In general, most silicone-based or water-based lubricants are safe to use with condoms. Which is one of the reasons that many couples prefer them. However, whatever you choose, it's always important to check the list of ingredients to make sure no oil is included.

Any lubricant that contains oil in the list of ingredients should be avoided. Oil-based lubricants are never safe to use with condoms, diaphragms cervical caps or any sex aids or devices made of latex, since they degrade the materials and increase the risk of pregnancy or STI transmission. Some people use vegetable oil, olive oil, body cream or other types of household ingredients as lubricant, however since these are oil-based, they are not safe to use with latex contraceptives.

Also, any birth control methods made of silicone, such as some diaphragms or cervical caps, should not be used with silicone-based lubricants because of a chemical reaction that can degrade the quality of the birth control method and increase the chances of pregnancy.

Lubricants and fertility.

Couples who are trying to conceive may want to pass on using a lubricant. A 2005 study presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine found that several popular lubricants decrease the chances of conception. Use of a lubricant slowed down sperm and also decreased the quality of the sperm, interfering with their ability to reach and fertilize an egg.

In particular, the study found that Replens slowed sperm down by 89%, while Astroglide did so by 60%. Two other formulas, FemGlide and K-Y Jelly were less harmful, slowing sperm down by 15% and 10%, respectively. However, not all lubricants have been tested in relation to whether they slow down the movement as sperm. (Keep in mind that while lubricant may interfere with sperm reaching a woman's fallopian tubes, it is never a replacement for a reliable form of birth control.)

Couples who prefer to use a lubricant may want to try PreSeed, a lubricant designed just for couples who are trying to conceive. Researchers found no significant differences in how fast sperm moved with PreSeed.

Lubricants and menopause.

Many women find that a personal lubricant is helpful around the time of menopause. The hormonal changes leading up to, during and after menopause often lead to vaginal dryness, mostly because of decreased estrogen levels. As a result of less lubrication and also changes to the vaginal tissues that often make them less flexible, sex may be less enjoyable or even painful.

Some women (and men) misinterpret these physical changes as a lack of arousal, which can cause a cascading doubt between partners about sex. In reality, these physiological and hormonal changes are totally normal and using a lubricant may help.

Some women find that using a lubricant is not enough, however. A woman may have ongoing vaginal dryness or changes to the vaginal tissues, both of which are not going to be remedied with a lubricant alone. A lubricant is a good first step, but check in with a health care provider if you're still experiencing pain or ongoing dryness, to explore other treatments, including perhaps estrogen replacement.

The best lubricants for women who are prone to vaginal irritation.

Anything that comes into contact with a woman's genitals can cause infection or irritation, by interrupting the natural bacteria balance that fights off infection or simply as a result of ingredients that a woman's body is sensitive to. Some women are more sensitive than others. As a rule, a lubricant should always be tested on a small patch of skin and left for 24 hours, before applying it to the genitals.

If a woman is prone to irritation or infection, or has never tried a lubricant before, she may want to try a water-based formula that is free of glycerine, an ingredient that some feel may be more likely to promote irritation or infection. Flavored lubricants may be especially likely to promote irritation or infection, as they often contain sugar. Some women may also be sensitive to propylene glycol or parabens.

If all of these ingredients are eliminated and a woman is still experiencing irritation, she may want to check in with a dermatologist who can test for allergies and recommend some formulas that may work better with her body.

The best lubricants for anal sex.

Many couples are curious about anal sex, but worried that it will be painful. In addition to making anal sex more comfortable, using a lubricant is helpful for any type of anal penetration, since the anus does not naturally lubricate and discomfort or even tearing may result.

The best kind of lubricant for anal sex is typically a silicone-based formula. Whether it's a penis, a strap-on dildo or some other type of anal sex toy, silicone-based formulas are designed to last longer and offer more slipperiness for helping with penetration, and can be applied to the penis, anal opening and/or toys. Just be sure to check that the toy you're using isn't made of silicone, in which case a water-based lubricant is best. Silicone-based lubricants can break down silicone sex aids, making them unsafe for use.

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