A lubricant is a substance that lessens friction. They are used to make sexual activities (in particular vaginal and anal penetration) more comfortable and hopefully more pleasurable. We tend to use them when we want more lubrication than what our body’s own lubrication is providing. Which is pretty much everyone at one point or another or even often most of the time (like me for the past 20 years – yep, I need me lots of lube and have since my mid-twenties).
Sufficient vaginal lubrication is subjective, individual and not the signifier of sexual arousal that we have been taught to believe it is. Not at all in fact.
Read this from Emily Nagoski for a thorough and entertaining read on this topic.
Go there right now, then come back to learn more about some of jargon used in the lube marketing biz.
Name That Lube
Most lubricants used to be simply labelled as such, but now companies are also using other terms like glides, moisturizers, lotions and gels.
I wonder if they have moved away from the term lubricant to make it sound less industrial? Maybe sexier? Less sexy? More health based? More skincare based? Hmmm.
The new terms might make it seem less intimidating to shop, but it can also make it extra confusing.
Let’s fix that!
Labelling terms are mainly unregulated (with a couple of exceptions). The words below have no standard or legally bound definitions. Manufacturers can use them however they want to.
for sensitive skin
What about organic? It’s a partially regulated word. In Canada a product can be labelled certified organic if 95% or more of the ingredients have been certified organic by the Canada Organic Regime. But companies can use organic to mean just about anything. If something being truly organic is important to you, look for the certification.
Like most marketing terms, the above words are used to bring about a feeling in the consumer. It could be playing on a fear or a desire or both.
The desire for natural products often comes from the fear of danger. However, synthetic doesn’t mean unsafe. In fact, synthetic ingredients are often less irritating than natural ingredients.
We often want natural ingredients because we think they are less processed, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Plant oils require a tremendous amount of processing and always have.
So unregulated terms actually mean very little and it’s often hard for us as consumers to find the right lube for our needs.
In making a choice it’s wise to consider what we need a lube for (which body parts and which activities), how long you need it to last (is it for a sexual activity or for all day comfort?) and if you want or don’t want certain ingredients (no oil because you use latex condoms or no aloe because you are allergic).
In this post I go into detail about different kind of lubes, but here is a short overview of what some of the terms might mean to help you along the way.
Part of this new-ish language is accurately descriptive. It helps you know the consistency of the stuff. A gel will be thicker than a lotion. Words like silk and satin let you know the texture. The word glide lets you know it will likely provide a slip and slide experience.
The words intimate, discrete and personal are used to let you know where you apply it. I think it’s a way for companies to avoid putting the words genital, vaginal or anal on their product. Plenty of people still have shame or embarrassment around sex and bodies so I get the rationale even though it makes me sad.
Of course, since lubricants are placed next to other sexual items like condoms in a pharmacy we do get the idea of where they are to be used. That location is useful.
New to the lube scene are products labelled as moisturizers. I think they are seeking the significant market of perimenopausal and postmenopausal people dealing with significant vaginal dryness more generally.
A true long-acting vaginal moisturizer is used to increase the water content inside the cells that line the vagina, resulting in tissue that is more elastic, thicker, and better able to naturally produce lubrication. it is used in anticipation of intercourse, not at the time of intercourse.
Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever by Lauren Streigher, MD
Unfortunately, because the term long-acting moisturizer is unregulated most products that label themselves that way are in fact reducers of friction and don’t actually thicken vaginal walls or provide all day moisture. Two exceptions I’m aware of are Replens and Yes VM. They have some published research to back up their claims. I think Yes VM is worth looking into as Replens notoriously leaves a cotton-like residue for some users.
Final Thoughts (For Today Anyway)
I think once you have know this stuff chasing a lube or moisturizer will be easier. However, what makes it even easier I think is to go to a shop with knowledgable staff and sample testers so you can feel the products on your hands. Buying a few small versions so you can experiment at home is great too. Information combined with trial and error is the way to go.
I hope this helped bring some clarity to the confusion. If you have any questions though, please feel free to leave them in the comments.