What Is Lube, What Does It Do And Why Do People Use It For Sex?

Personal lubricants are slippery substances used by men and women to make solo or partnered sexual acts more pleasurable and reduce friction.
Photograph Of Hands Holding Bottle Of Pjur Original Silicone Personal Lubricant Against Pink Background
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Lube – also known as personal lubricant – is a slippery substance that comes in a liquid or gel form used to minimize discomfort or irritation that can result from friction during sexual activity.

Some lubes can also add unique flavors or sensations to enhance sexual pleasure.

Here’s what you need to know about lube — and what it does:

  • Although the vagina produces natural lubrication on its own, it isn’t always enough, so applying lube before or during sex can make it much more pleasurable and comfortable.
  • The anus does not produce lubrication at all so when it comes to anal sex, an appropriate lube is an absolute must to prevent discomfort or accidental injury.
  • While spit acts as lube during oral sex, there are times when saliva production may be low — such as after eating a salty meal or when dealing with chronic dry mouth. An edible lubricant (with or without flavor) can be used to make oral sex much more pleasurable for both parties.
  • Masturbation with toys can be more enjoyable when using personal lube, as it reduces friction during penetration and, in the case of clit-sucking vibrators, can enhance the toy’s performance.
  • Sensitizing lubricants (such as those that produce a warming, cooling, or tingling effect) can add an extra element of sensation during sex, although their ingredient lists sometimes include less-than-safe additives to achieve those sensations.
  • Desensitizing lubes, on the other hand, numb the areas they come into contact with, and although they are sometimes used to reduce discomfort during anal sex, we don’t recommend them because they can mask pain associated with injury as it is occurring.

You can use lube for any kind of sex — oral, vaginal, anal, or with sex toys, and you don’t even need a partner to use it.

Things To Know
In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about what lube is and what it does, including:

What Is Lube?

Aerial Photograph Of Hand Holding Bottle Of AH! YES WB Personal Lubricant Over White Wooden Floor

Lube, formally known as personal lubricant, is a specialized over-the-counter product with a silky, slippery consistency designed to make sexual activity more comfortable by reducing friction.

Anybody can use lube and because it works so well — many people do, including our entire team at Women’s Health Interactive.

About 49.9 million Americans use personal lubricants and a study found that 65.5% of women they surveyed had used lube.

It isn’t a new phenomenon, either. The earliest evidence of its use is olive oil as lube — as far back as 350 BC.

What Does Lube Do?

Lube can be used by men or women, regardless of sexual orientation or the type of sex someone is having – and whether with a partner or solo.

Lube can be used for:

  • Decreasing friction and preventing associated discomfort during vaginal sex.
  • Decreasing friction and preventing discomfort or injury to the anus during anal penetration.
  • Making oral sex easier and more enjoyable, particularly if dry mouth is an issue. Additionally, some lubes have added flavoring that can be used purely for the enjoyment of it, or as a means of “masking” the natural taste of a penis or vulva.
  • Making the use of sex toys more comfortable and in some cases, can actually improve the way they function.
  • Adding a warming, cooling, or tingling effect during sex play, although the ingredients used to achieve these effects are not always safe.
  • Numbing the areas they make contact with — most often the anus — to decrease discomfort during penetration. This numbing effect, however, can mask any pain associated with injury as it occurs.

With its silky and slick consistency, personal lubricant reduces friction and lowers the risk of irritation or injury if your body isn’t producing enough of its own lubrication during sex — which, by the way, is normal.

Many people use lubricant during vaginal or anal penetration, but it’s often used during external play, too — such as during manual stimulation of the penis or clitoris.

Although the vagina produces lubrication naturally, it isn’t always enough to provide adequate comfort during penetration.

Additionally, small tears can occur from friction during vaginal penetration — something that lube helps to prevent.

Aside from vaginal use, the anus is not self-lubricating and for this reason, lube should always be used during anal sex — without exception — to prevent anal injury (and in tandem, a higher risk of STI transmission).

There are plenty of expertly-crafted formulas to choose from that are specifically designed to enhance anal sex.

While spit acts as a natural lube during oral sex, dry mouth can happen to anyone — and an edible lube can remedy the situation quickly, with the added benefit of sweet flavoring (optional).

Additionally, the performance of sex toys can be improved with the use of a little bit of personal lubricant.

While penetrative toys benefit from the reduction of friction when lube is in use, personal lubricant helps clit sucking vibrators to “latch” onto the clit more easily — making them more effective in the process.

  • What Does Lube Do For Men?

Lube is just as beneficial to men as it is for women by also reducing friction and easing any pain — especially when it comes to anal sex.

This study showed that 70% of American men had used lubricant, and about one in four men used lubricant in the past 30 days.

Sexual intercourse was the most common activity in which men used lubricant, though masturbation and sexual activity with partners of the same sex were also linked to lubricant use.

The most popular reasons men cited for using lube included making sex more comfortable, exploring it out of fun or curiosity, or because “my partner wanted to.”

  • What Does Lube Do For Women?

Often, sex feels uncomfortable because of vaginal dryness.

Women use lube to reduce dryness, ease pain, and lower the risk of injury.

In the study we referenced above, the most repeated answer to why lubricant is used by women was to “make sex more comfortable.”

In addition, more than two-thirds of women in that study confirmed that they use personal lubricant because it makes sex more pleasurable.

Lube is also commonly used for reasons related to sexual pleasure.

The results of this study determined that using water-based or silicone-based lube directly correlates with better feelings of sexual pleasure and satisfaction during masturbation and vaginal sex.

Lube literally makes sex better physically and, in consequence, mentally.

Types Of Lube

Close Up Photograph Of Clear Water-Based Lubricant Being Poured Into Open Hand From Above

Personal lubricants can come in many different formulas, but there are three main types.

  • Oil-based lubricants are very moisturizing, waterproof, and last as well as silicone lubes do, but they cannot be used with STI or pregnancy barriers made from latex or polyisoprene — including condoms, diaphragms, or dental dams — because the oil will degrade their material, rendering them ineffective.

There are quality lubricants of each type that our team personally recommends after having tried them ourselves so if you’re ready to try the best of the best, you can explore them below:

  • How To Choose The Right Lubricant

Lucky for you, we have a fun, interactive quiz that will help you find the perfect lubricant for your favorite sexual activities, preferences, and personal safety.

You can also read through our in-depth lube guide but if you need a quick answer about which type of lube might be the best fit for your situation, the table below will help.

Lube Type:
Oral Sex Yes Yes Not usually
Vaginal Sex ONLY if pH/Osmolality suitable Yes Yes
Anal Sex ONLY if pH/Osmolality suitable Yes Yes
Condom Types All All Polyurethane, nitrile and lambskin only
Sex Toy Types All All but silicone All but latex
Bath/Shower Use No Yes Yes
Does It Stain? No Yes Yes
Lube Type:
Oral Sex
Vaginal Sex
Anal Sex
Condom Types
Sex Toy Types
Bath/Shower Use
Does It Stain?

Is Lube Safe?

Photograph Of Drop Of Aloe Cadabra Being Squeezed Onto Fingers

For the most part, lube is safe and very effective for its intended use — to provide extra lubrication for genitals during sexual activity to decrease discomfort and lower the risk of irritation or injury.

Always check the ingredients of your personal lubricant to ensure its safety.

Lube is also safe during pregnancy and when trying to conceive, if either is a concern for you, provided it is made from body-safe ingredients.

How To Use Lube

There are no real instructions for using lube — simply apply a small amount to your genitals and/or sex toys you intend to use.

Dr. Susan Milstein, a human sexuality health educator on our medical review board, advised that it is best to start with a minimal amount.

“You can always add more,” she explained, “but too much when you start can feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable.”

After you choose the best lube for your body and your intended sexual activity, you can apply it to the vagina, penis, anus, or anywhere else as necessary.

The amount needed may vary depending on the type of lube, your personal preferences, and the duration of the activity — but you can reapply if you find that you need more.

Alternatives To Lube

Since the beginning of time, people have been using creams, oils, lotions, and other liquid concoctions to make sex more comfortable.

Although formulated personal lubricants typically contain several different ingredients, some of these are safe enough to use as lube in certain circumstances and they can likely be found in your pantry:

It’s important to note that oil-based lube alternatives shouldn’t be used with STI or pregnancy barriers made of latex or polyisoprene, as the oil will degrade their materials and make them ineffective.

Additionally, any lube alternative should be patch-tested on a non-genital area of skin (such as your inner elbow) to make sure it won’t cause an allergic reaction.

In Conclusion

Personal lubricants can be used to help make sexual acts a lot more pleasurable, including partnered sex, playing with sex toys, and masturbation.

All you need to do is choose a safe lube for your body, desired activity, and personal situation.

Once you get a good squirt of that slippery stuff, the real fun starts — and you’ll wonder why you never tried using lube before.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our Everything Lube hub, an in-depth and evolving resource that comprehensively explores all aspects of personal lubricants from the different types and how to use them, to ingredients and safety — created to help you achieve the sexual pleasure you deserve.

All Things Lube