What you should and shouldn't use, unless you actually want an itchy, irritated vagina—or an STI.

By Gabrielle Kassel
Updated September 21, 2020
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So you and your partner are in the mood for some bedroom action. You throw off your clothes and start steaming the windows with your foreplay moves, but even though you're feeling it, things are a little dry down below. No big deal—except that you're out of lube. In the moment, you grab another slippery product and assume it'll do the trick.

Not so fast. Turning to DIY options for the awesome slickness that makes good sex mind-blowing isn't always a smart idea. The best lubricants are water- or silicone-based and contain no chemical fragrances, dyes, or other potential irritants. Problem is, the lube swap you might rely on could be oil-based or have vagina-unfriendly ingredients.

To get the lowdown, we asked sexual health experts for the most popular substitute lubricants their patients admitted to using, what's actually safe to use, plus why you should keep some of these far away from your lady parts.

What are things you can use as lube?

Aloe vera

Surprisingly, a number of commercial lubricants contain aloe vera, a known skin soother, especially after a sunburn. Due to its slippery feel and natural moisturizing abilities, aloe makes for a great lubricant for vaginal or anal sex that won't break down the effectiveness of condoms, latex or not. Be sure to stick to 100% aloe vera or aloe vera designed specifically to be used as lubricant to be safe. And of course if you're allergic, this slippery fun plant isn't your best bet.

Coconut oil

Oh coconut oil, let us count the ways we love you: your amazing smell, your antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties, and your slipperiness as a lube for anal and vaginal sex. “One of my favorite natural lubricants is extra virgin coconut oil," Florida-based ob-gyn Jennifer Landa, MD, chief medical officer at BodyLogicMD, previously told Health. "It is moisturizing and lubricating and doesn't ball up like a lot of lubes you can buy." Warm it as a massaging oil as well for super sexy foreplay. However there's one catch—coconut oil can break down the effectiveness of latex condoms. If coconut oil is your go-to, switch to non-latex condoms instead.

Actual lubricant

As much as you wish you could get it on right away, the best lube is one that's actually designed to be used during sex and not irritate sensitive skin down there. Depending on your reason for using lube (dryness, for example, or you're attempting anal sex), it's always good to find one—water, oil, or silicone based–that won't interfere with a good time.

What shouldn't you use as lube?

Whipped cream

The 1999 movie Varsity Blues made whipped cream lingerie the ultimate bedroom fantasy. But while whipped cream is delicious, it poses a risk if it gets inside your vagina. Any products with sugar in them can throw off the pH balance of the vagina, and lead to irritation, says New Mexico-based board-certified sexologist Molly Adler, co-founder of the Self Serve Sexuality Resource Center. That includes other dessert-inspired foods, like maple syrup, chocolate sauce, and honey.

Lotion

“How many TV shows have you seen where an adolescent boy is using hand lotion to masturbate? Its prevalence might make you think it’s a good lube substitute, but it’s actually not,” says Adler. Even so-called natural lotions can contain dye and perfume, not to mention parabens, which some experts believe are potential hormone disruptors.

Olive oil

Consuming olive oil is good for your heart, and putting it on your skin can give you a radiant glow. Yet while this kitchen staple is a great option for massage and foreplay, says Liz Powell, PsyD, a sex educator, coach, and licensed psychologist in Oregon, it's not so good for penetration. That's because any natural oil can weaken the latex in a condom and leave you less pregnancy- and STI-protected.

Petroleum jelly

The idea lube will make things glide during sex—not get gunky, as petroleum jelly tends to do. It's tough to wash off and can trap bacteria, leading to irritation or infection, explains Powell. One study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who had used petroleum jelly as lube were more than twice as likely to have bacterial vaginosis. Like oil-based products, it can also mess with the effectiveness of latex-based condoms, which means a higher risk for pregnancy and STIs.

Baby oil

Few products are as light and slippery as baby oil. But oil is the operative word here. Even though it feels good, it isn’t a great choice. Another study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found a link between the intravaginal use of baby oil and candida growth in the vagina, which can lead to a yeast infection. Plus, the oil can break down latex.

Mineral oil

“Mineral and suntan oils have not been specifically designed as lubricants, and your body may actually absorb them,” says Powell. “The problem with that is they can make genital tissues more dry (the opposite of the intended effect), which means you’re more likely to tear." Plus, research published in the journal Contraception found that latex condoms exposed to mineral oil caused a 90% decrease in the strength of the condoms after just 60 seconds.

Shortening

“Crisco was a common choice for the gay community for many years because you could freeze it and then let the body melt it,” says Powell. But since this cooking staple is oil-based, it interferes with the effectiveness of latex condoms, not to mention can irritate your lady parts.

Butter

It contains casein proteins from the milk—which is great for after a workout, but which can also become rancid pretty quickly, says Powell. Experimentation in the bedroom is a lot of fun, yet as a general rule, you want to keep rotting animal proteins away from your genitals.

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