Firstly, I want want to emphasize that lube is important, for everyone. It makes things more fun, of course, and is appropriate for just about everyone, regardless of age. However, what's in your lube matters.
Lube is important for not only for making sex more pleasurable and safer, but it can also change the pH of your vagina, and introduce all kinds of other compounds, good and bad. The cis female pelvis and vagina typically have a pH of around 4.5, but lubes can actually vary widely in their pH and their contents.
The WHO formulated a list of popular lubricants, and made a recommendation for individuals to use lube that as a pH of around 4.5 and a osmolality of 1200 or less. Let’s discuss these two components, pH and osmolality.
pH is a measure of relative parts per hydrogen in a liquid, essentially a measure of how acidic or basic it is. The reason the pH matters is because different bacteria thrive at different pHs. The ones that are supportive to your body thrive at a pH of 4.5, so if your pH is shifted by a lube, it can promote the growth of crankier bacteria and leave you more susceptible to infection.
Osmolality is a measure of density of particles, and measures how much water it will draw out from your cells. If the osmolality is higher than normal pelvic secretions, it will cause the tissue to dehydrate, compromising the mucous membrane, and leaving you vulnerable to infection. I’ve had clients who get recurrent infections with any penetration, despite their cleanliness routine. But once we switch their lube, everything changed.
So, please check out your lube, and make sure it has a composition that supports your pelvic health. The best ones, according to the WHO list, are Durex Playmore (it’s pH is closer to 4.7, but that’s closer than most out there, and it has a low osmolality), Fillergyn, Phyto Soya, Good Clean Love. If you’re not sure, I typically recommend Good Clean Love because they avoid complex additives (no, I don’t get paid to say that). You can use the discount code Functional20 to get a 20% discount code off your first order.
Now, the other thing about lube is what type you can use. pH and osmolality are the chemical factors of your pH, but lubes can be water-based, silicone based, or oil based.
Water based lubes are typically what I recommend; the main complication is that they can dry out rather quickly if exposed to air. However, they are safe to use with latex and silicone condoms, as well as latex and silicone toys.
Silicone based lubes are slippery, which is great, but can’t be used with toys that are also silicone based, because they’ll actually dissolve them. Silicone based lubes are safe to use with latex condoms.
Oil based lubricants can damage silicone and latex items, and aren’t recommended for people using barrier contraception, because they’ll dissolve the barrier.
Now, I also want to talk about some things other lubricant options.
Coconut oil has risen in popularity the last few years because it’s fairly cheap, accessible, and in some cases, can be absorbed by the skin. That’s great, however, be sure to use virgin coconut oil, because it’s gone through an extra refinement process. And for my clients with more sensitive skin, coconut oil can actually promote dryness in their skin. So I give this one a 6/10.
As for things to not use, let’s go through:
Don’t use animal fats, like butter, duck fat, bacon grease. These fats are slippery, but they can clog pores, increasing likelihood of infection, and if you don’t rinse appropriately after use, can stay in your body, turn rancid, and promote bacterial growth of the not fun kind.
The same thing for petroleum jelly like Vaseline; not only will the petroleum dissolve plastic condoms, it will also clog your pores, and promote infection, again upping the bacterial count of the not fun kind.
Baby oil, lotion, and soap are also not good alternatives, because again, they increase the rate of infection. Lotions, soaps, and baby oil are largely unregulated, can have all kinds of weird content, and will change the pH of the pelvis.
The big conclusion?
If you want to use a lube, choose a water based one with a pH around 4.5 and an omsolality below 1200, and if you want to go natural use virgin coconut oil.
Bear in mind, I’m not a pharmacist, I’m not an OBG-YN. If you’re having recurrent infections or skin irritation during or after sex, reach out to your primary care.