Let’s talk about sex. No—let’s talk about good sex.
I love hearing my friends’ stories and sharing my own, swapping theories and advice. But I am tired of hearing the same disappointing tales of experiences that could be at least partially remedied if people were doing their sexual homework (and if they were communicating more—but I imagine I’ll be getting to that in upcoming columns). I am tired of being told bizarre but apparently absolute rules about sexual initiation, reciprocation, orgasms, lube, porn, sex toys, you name it. I am tired of all the bad sex I hear about on this campus, a campus that often prides itself on its sex positivity and openness. So I’m writing this column.
I want to clarify that I am not trying to pass myself off as a sexuality expert. I have no degrees or certifications. I am not Carrie Bradshaw; if you picked this up to read about my personal life, stop reading (and maybe let’s get lunch sometime). I spent the summer interning at the fabulous Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (CSPH), a 501(c)(3)(csPH) organization dedicated to reducing sexual shame, challenging misinformation, and advancing the field of sexuality. I learned a huge amount about various aspects of sexuality and gained access to a slew of amazing resources. Now, I want to share that information and those resources with my community here and with the hook-up culture that, when used well and responsibly, can be awesome. Also, though I attribute my knowledge to the CSPH, I write this column in a personal capacity; thus it should not be read as an official CSPH publication, or one that necessarily represents the organization and its views.
This week I am pulling from a topic very near and dear to my heart (and hopefully to everybody’s genitals): LUBE. Misconceptions about lubrication are rampant on this campus, and they’re apparently spreading faster than the nastiest strain of norovirus ever did. If I had a penny for every time someone has told me that vaginas self-lubricate and thus vagina owners don’t need to use artificial lubrication, I would have enough money to buy myself a very fancy bottle of silicone lube (that stuff is not cheap).
Here are just a few reasons that vulvas may not self-lubricate sufficiently for good sex, penetrative or otherwise: stress level, illness, age, where someone is in hir menstrual cycle, prior experience with assault, medications (including antihistamines, ADHD meds, and hormonal birth control), alcohol, alcohol, oh and did I mention alcohol? And let’s not forget the endlessly relevant and all-encompassing rule that all bodies are different. If you have a vulva, or your sexual partners have vulvas, then I would bet you my thesis carrel that one of those reasons is, has been, or will be applicable to your sexual activities.
Most of all, though, I want to do away once and for all with the word “need.” Do some sexual activities need lube? Yes. The anus does not self-lubricate, so lube is an absolute must to ensure pleasure and safety for anal play and penetration (with a human penis, a sex toy, a hand, you name it). But in general, don’t use lube because you need it. Use lube because it makes everything better.
Manual sex will be smoother; oral sex will be less stressful when your mouth dries out, and potentially tastier; penetrative sex of any kind will be easier and more enjoyable. Put a drop of lube in the tip of a condom before putting it on, to make sex more fun for the penis owner and to keep the condom from breaking. Your body is miraculous, but it does not provide everything you need; that’s why we have things like soap, toothpaste, and medicine. And lube.
There are four basic types of lubricant: water-based, silicone, hybrid, and oil-based.
Water-based lube is an easy go-to, because it is safe to use with latex condoms or gloves. Water-based cream or gel lubricants, because they are thicker, are also great for anal play. But be sure to read the ingredients! Many water-based lubes, especially flavored ones, include the sugar alcohol glycerin. This can increase the risk of yeast infections in people prone to them, and it may also dry out quickly and become sticky. Even glycerin-free water-based lubes will dry out at some point, so you may need to reapply. Also be wary of water-based lubes that contain parabens, which can be a skin irritant.
I recently told a room full of strangers that if I could fill a swimming pool with any liquid, it would be really good-quality silicone lube. And when I am a multi-millionaire, I will do exactly that. You can all come by my vulva-shaped mansion and fill up a bottle. Silicone lube does not absorb into the skin, so it lasts a long time. It is waterproof, hypoallergenic, flavorless, and safe to use with any type of protection. Since it does not dry out, it is a popular option for anal play as well.
If, however, you are using silicone sex toys, spring for a water-based or hybrid lube. Silicone molecules like each other and will bond together, which is probably great fun for them but will degrade your toy. Hybrid lubes combine water-based and silicone lube so that you can get the feeling and longevity of silicone lube and still use it with your silicone toys.
Oil-based lubes degrade latex, so they cannot be used with latex condoms or gloves. Natural oil-based lubes, such as coconut oil and vegetable oil, may be popular among those who want a more “natural” experience, but keep in mind that these can still stain fabric and destroy latex. They are also harder to wash out of the body, which may increase the risk of yeast infection for people with vaginas.
Steer clear of lube that advertises itself as warming or cooling, and particularly avoid desensitizing products. Your body experiences pain for a reason, and you should be able to feel sand stop any activity that is pushing you past any physical or emotional limits.
You can buy lube at the drug store, any sex shop (where they’ll usually have testers for you to touch, taste, and smell), or online. Or, best of all, you can get packets of it for free from the WesWell office in Davison Health Center!
Have more questions about lube (or anything else)? When you’re at the WesWell office stuffing your pockets with lube packets and safer sex supplies, grab some of the amazing pamphlets and resources they provide. Good online resources include Scarleteen’s“Lube 101: A Slick Little Primer” and Good Vibrations’ “How to Choose a Lubricant.”
Now that you have the info, go forth and lubricate!
Baurer is a member of the class of 2015.