March 27, 2023

Lubricant Alternatives: What To Use and What To Avoid

Stay away from hand lotion and honey, but coconut oil can do the trick

Small jar of olive oil on a rustic wooden table.

There are a few reasons you might want a little more slip in your slide, down there. Perhaps you’re nearing menopause, and things are more parched than they used to be. Or maybe you just want to try something new and different with your partner.

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You may be wondering about lubricant options beyond the usual drugstore brands. Some lube substitutes are definitely better for your sexy parts than others. And you might be surprised which ones make the cut.

Can you use lotion for lube? Probably not the greatest idea. Honey as lube, even though it may seem “natural,” also isn’t the way to go. Gynecologist Talia Crawford, MD, explains why and answers the question, “What can I use instead of lube?”

Types of lubricants

People use lubricants during sex for many reasons, says Dr. Crawford. It might be for fun, to ease vaginal dryness during menopause or to make anal sex more comfortable. Or you might want to use a novelty lube to increase sensation.

The typical lubes you find in drugstores fall into three categories:

  • Oil-based lubricants tend to be the longest-lasting. But don’t use them with latex condoms or dental dams because oils break down latex, making the condom more likely to tear.
  • Silicone-based lubricants last longer than water-based lubes and are safe for all types of condoms.
  • Water-based lubricants are often the least irritating. But they dry out more quickly than the other types.

But what if you want a natural lube or would rather use something you already have around the house? “You have a few good options, but there are also some things you definitely want to avoid,” says Dr. Crawford.

What can you use instead of lube?

When it’s sexy time, don’t just reach for whatever’s nearby. The wrong lube can cause irritation, burning and even an infection. The best lube alternatives won’t irritate you or negatively impact vaginal health.

Here are some safe choices:

Oils you can use as lube

Several natural oils are acceptable sex lubricants. Dr. Crawford recommends (preferably organic) oils such as:

  • Coconut oil.
  • Hemp seed oil.
  • Grape seed oil
  • Extra virgin olive oil.
  • Vegetable oil.
  • Sunflower oil.

She also approves of vitamin E oil as a lube.

The oils Dr. Crawford recommends typically don’t cause vaginal irritation or lead to infection. And for anyone wanting a natural lube, these oils are good options.

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However, don’t use oil-based lubes if you’re using a latex condom or dental dam. Oils break down latex, which, again, can lead to tears in the condom or dental dam.

Natural water-based lubes

If you’re not into olive oil as a lube or prefer something water-based, Dr. Crawford has a few suggestions.

First, look for a water-based lube that has aloe and vitamin E.

Then, check to make sure it doesn’tinclude chlorhexidine gluconate, nonoxynol-9 (or other spermicides), or propylene glycol. She also suggests steering clear of perfumed or scented lubes, as well as lubes that claim to have warming, cooling or tingling properties — it’s unlikely the ingredients involved are natural.

You can also use pure aloe vera gel. But you’ll likely find aloe dries out too quickly or doesn’t provide enough glide.

Lube alternatives to avoid

Dr. Crawford advises against using certain common products and substances for lube, especially during vaginal sex.

Here are the substances she says to avoid as sex lubricants:

Animal-derived substances

Stay away from butter, egg whites, fish oil and yogurt. Animal proteins can disrupt healthy bacteria and lead to vaginal irritation and infection.

Cleansing products

Shampoo and hand soaps have a basic pH. A vagina’s pH is naturally acidic. This mismatch can cause vaginal burning and, sometimes, infection.

Creams and lotions

Skin moisturizers often contain fragrances and other irritating ingredients. Plus, they tend to dry out too quickly if you try to use them as lube.

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Saliva

The bacteria in your mouth differ from those in your vagina. Introducing mouth bacteria down there can lead to an infection.

Sugary substances

Stay away from sweeteners like agave, honey or syrup. Sugars can change the vaginal environment, creating an infection risk. They can also clump up and cause scratches.

Synthetic oils

Baby oil and petroleum jelly (Vaseline®) can irritate delicate tissues, especially in your vagina.

Avoid these ingredients in store-bought lubes

If you do use store-bought lubricants, check the back of the tube or box. Several common lube ingredients can give you unwelcome burning and irritation.

Dr. Crawford recommends avoiding these ingredients in your lubes:

  • Chlorhexidine gluconate: This chemical is used as a preservative but can cause burning and irritation in some people.
  • Fragrances: These scents are almost always made with synthetic chemicals that may cause irritation.
  • Glycerin: This ingredient helps keep lube slippery, but it may lead to a yeast infection.
  • Propylene glycol: This chemical makes lubes moist, but some people are sensitive to it.
  • Spermicides: Chemicals in spermicides are often irritating and can kill the good bacteria in your vagina. But spermicides may be necessary for birth control, depending on your contraception method.

Dr. Crawford also cautions against using lubes that claim to be “cooling” or “tingling.” The ingredients that produce these sensations can increase sensitivity during sex but may also irritate delicate areas.

It’s fine to play around with different types of lubes. Just stay away from the ingredients-to-avoid list. Beyond that — have fun!

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