If dry sex is leaving you in desperate need of lubrication, read this go-to guide to determine when to use silicone-, oil-, and water-based lubes.

By Lauren Mazzo and Marie Gartee
Updated April 29, 2020
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Photo: Megan Madden / Refinery29 for Getty Images

"The wetter the better." It's a sexual cliché you've heard more times than you can remember. And while it doesn't take a genius to realize that lubricated parts are going to result in smoother sailing between the sheets, also realize that your natural wetness doesn't always match up with your level of "turned on."

Vaginal dryness can occur for multiple reasons-a medication you're taking, an illness, or simply getting older, says sex therapist Tiffanie Henry, Ph.D. Simply put, sometimes you might be mentally ready for sex, but your lady parts are trying to play catch-up. (Here are some of the reasons you're dry ~down there~.)

Why You Should Absolutely Use Lube

This is where lube comes in. Not only can adding some extra moisture make sex less painful, it can also make it more enjoyable. In fact, according to research from Indiana University's Center for Sexual Health Promotion, over 50 percent of women who used lube during solo play or P-in-V sex reported it increased their pleasure and made sex more comfortable. And a whopping 92 percent of couples say that sex is better with lube, according to K-Y's Love All 365 Survey, which polled 1,000 U.S. adults ages 25 and up and was conducted by Wakefield Research.

Lube isn't only key during vaginal sex, either: It's actually crucial for anal sex and can take masturbation to the next level. Ready to dive in? First, figure out which lube is best for you.

How to Pick the Best Type of Lube

To simplify your search for the best possible match, here are a few pointers to ensure that you're bringing the right bottle to bed. First, know that there are three popular types of lube: water-, silicone-, and oil-based. And ingredients and quality aside, there are two major differences: texture and function. (Here's a complete guide to the best lubes for every sex scenario.)

"Like with most sexual things, lube is a highly personal choice based on one's body chemistry and preference," says Erin Basler-Francis, content and brand manager at The Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health, a nonprofit sexuality education and advocacy organization in Rhode Island.

However, there are a few occasions when you should seek out specific types of lubes. If you're trying to get pregnant, opt for water or silicone-based lubricants that are unscented and flavor-free. Those strawberry-tasting varieties might take your between-the-sheets activity up a notch, but they can negatively affect the vagina's natural pH balance and disrupt sperm's ability to easily swim up into the fallopian tubes to fertilize the egg, says Sherry A. Ross, M.D., ob-gyn and author of She-ology and She-ology: The She-quel. As for "sperm-friendly" lubes, research has shown that Pre-Seed Personal Lubricant (Buy It, $20, target.com) comes out on top.

In a 2014 study on nine "sperm-friendly" lubricants, researchers found that Pre-Seed had the smallest effect on sperm function, and sperm had the highest motility (re: moved actively, either straight or in a large circle) and vitality (aka the percentage of live sperm). "It's the safest for sperm, it doesn't affect their motility or shape, whereas other lubes can," says Leah Millheiser, M.D., an ob-gyn at Stanford University.

In terms of natural lubes, organic coconut oil is your best bet if you're looking to conceive. Unlike saliva, which contains enzymes that make it difficult for sperm to get to its final destination, coconut oil has similar properties that mimic the vagina’s natural pH balance to promote fertilization, says Dr. Ross.

Also, if you're prone to yeast infections or have noticed irritation with lube in the past, you may want to opt for a glycerin-free type, says Dr. Millheiser. "There's just not enough research yet to say, 'yes, we should all avoid parabens,'" says Dr. Millheiser, "But if that's important to you, there are plenty of options that are paraben-free, natural, or organic."

You won't really know what works best for you until you try them out-but did you really need another excuse to get busy?

Water-Based Lube

If you head to the drugstore, there's a good chance almost all the lubes there will be water-based, says Dr. Millheiser. "They're generally the cheapest and most widely available, and are a great place to start if you're just feeling a little friction," she says. They're safe for use with latex condoms and silicone sex toys but aren't slick enough for anal sex, which requires more lubrication.

"Water-based lube starts out slick and is easy to wash off, but it can get sticky and dry up throughout sex," says Basler-Francis. The stickiness is easy to fix by adding a bit of water (Dr. Millheiser recommends keeping a spray bottle stashed by your bed), rather than intuitively slathering on more lube (which will just result in a stickier mess).

Not sure where to start? Try these lubes recommended by Dr. Millheiser.

Silicone-Based Lube

Think of silicone as a level up from water-based lubes. "Silicone stays nice and slippery, but requires soap and water to wash off," says Basler-Francis, so it may not be the best solution if you aren't able to rinse off immediately after. If you're experiencing vaginal dryness because of hormonal birth control (such as the Pill or NuvaRing) or menopause, this is likely the better type of lube for you, says Dr. Millheiser. "You can always start with a water-based lube, but may want to bump it up and try a silicone-based formula instead," she says. "They're just as safe as water-based, but silicone lubes have greater lubricity, decrease friction even more, and last longer than water-based lubes."

However, silicone lubes cannot be used with a silicone sex toy (it breaks down the material) and they might be a little harder to find (you may only see one or two at a drugstore). Try one of these Dr. Millheiser-recommended silicone lubes.

Oil-Based Lube

Oil-based lubes are typically super slippery (on par with silicone lubes), which is great for external use-like a massage-but can irritate the walls of the vagina, warns Basler-Francis. More importantly (!!), you should know that oils break down latex, so they're not safe to use with condoms, says Dr. Millheiser. She recommends going straight to a natural oil like coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, or even vitamin E oil. (Yes, really. You can use coconut oil as lube.) No matter what, steer clear of processed oils like mineral oil, baby oil, or petroleum jelly, she says. "I don't recommend those ever." (P.S. Cannabis lube exists and it might just change your [sex] life.)

You can grab the coconut or olive oil straight out of your kitchen to use as lube-or you can try a lube created with a natural oil base (like CocoLube Personal Lubricant & Massage Oil, $25 for 118ml, amazon.com).

Aloe Vera–Based Lube

Aloe vera–based lubes are all the rage right now, thanks to new Instragam-friendly packaging. Longtime lube-makers like Durex and K-Y also have aloe-based lubes, but they're seeing a resurgence, thanks to the recent focus on all-natural sexual health and beauty products. "For some people, aloe-based lubricants work very well. Others may not love the smell or find that they dry out a bit faster," says Dr. Millheiser. (Again, it's all about preference.)

Dr. Millheiser does recommend this first one, but feel free to give these others a try.