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The Lube Job
by Daniel Vaillancourt

"Lube is one of the great under-explored pleasures of gay sex," declares Daniel Wolfe, author of Men Like Us: The GMHC Complete Guide to Gay Men's Sexual, Physical, and Emotional Well-Being. "There's such a wide variety."

Indeed, the array of available products is so vast that shopping for a personal lubricant can be confusing. Three basic categories exist: oil-based, water-based, and silicone-based. Factor in differences in texture, scent, flavor, quantity needed, durability, and ease of clean-up, and there's literally something for everyone.

"Taste in lube is very personal," says the Brooklyn-based Wolfe, 39, former communications director for New York City's Gay Men's Health Crisis, the largest AIDS service organization in the United States. "As with wine or anything else, if you haven't tasted all the varieties, it's difficult to know what you like."

The first thing to know is that there are health risks associated with lack of lube, especially during anal sex. Excessive friction caused by dryness can trigger condom breakage, potentially exposing you to HIV. Insufficient lubrication can also make intercourse uncomfortable or even painful, and may lead to infection by irritating sensitive skin.

Women may also benefit from using lube, especially when inserting sex toys. In addition, some women may experience vaginal dryness during menopause or during different stages in your menstrual cycle. This can interfere with sexual pleasure and lube may help.

The Right Stuff
"You can always use anything wet and slick," says Daniel H. Bowers, MD, a partner at Pacific Oaks Medical Group in Los Angeles, the largest private practice specializing in HIV in the United States. "But the rectal vault is an absorptive surface, so you should not put anything on the penis that goes into the rectum that may be harmful to ingest." Butter, Crisco, and extra virgin olive oil are fine choices if food-as-lube turns you on. But WD-40 may not be such a good idea.

"I hope people know that oil-based lubes are incompatible with latex condoms and other latex barriers," warns Wolfe."I do not advocate oil based lubrincants because they can plug anal glands and follicles around the anus. They can be irritating and promote fungal and bacterial infections, if you are not careful," warns medical director, Dr. Stephen Goldstone.

It's wise to avoid lubricants containing the spermicide nonoxynol-9, says Wolfe. "There's increasing evidence that nonoxynol-9 can actually inflame your mucous membranes and make you more susceptible to STDs or HIV." Spermicides have also been shown to deaden sensation in certain individuals.

"You should also look out for fragrances and flavors you may be allergic to," continues Dr. Bowers. "As a rule, stay away from them because you can get into problems."

As for using a partner's cum as lube, Dr. Bowers thinks it's risky business, in terms of HIV transmission. Should the opening of the penis be exposed to the HIV virus via infected ejaculate, transmission could take place. Semen on the shaft, however, is not a hazard unless there are sores, cuts or openings on the shaft of the penis.

Oil-Based Lubes

  • stay wetter longer
  • are ideal for solo activity, mutual masturbation, and anal sex between HIV-negative monogamous partners
  • can be heated for ten seconds in the microwave to add another dimension of pleasure


  • are non-compatible with latex condoms
  • are often greasy, can stain sheets, and are hard to wash off
  • some, such as petroleum jelly, can clog glands in the rectum

Best Bet:

  • Mens Cream: It has a Vaseline-like consistency without the greasy mess. Completely taste- and odor-free, it wipes clean with a dry cloth.

Water-Based Lube

  • are compatible with latex condoms
  • are easy to wash off
  • come in a variety of fragrances and sugar-free flavors


  • dry out, necessitating reapplication or reactivation (by adding water)
  • some are as sticky, messy, and hard to wash off as oil-based lubes
  • those containing glycerin taste slightly sweet and bitter

Best Bets:

  • Aqua Lube: Sweet but less bitter than most, the new and improved formula comes with a disclaimer stating: "Should Aqua Lube's silky feeling decrease during use, apply more…or add a few drops of water."


  • ForPlay Lube de Luxe: This impressive brand comes in formulas of varying viscosity: liquid, gel, and cream. Plus, its "Succulent" line includes seasonal flavors such as Candy Cane and Passionate Pumpkin.


  • ID Glide: No frills, but great thrills. Simple, slick, reliable. "Juicy Lube" flavors include the unusual Chocolate-Raspberry, Caramel Cream, and Bubblegum Blast.


  • K-Y: Billed as "#1 doctor recommended," K-Y is what a lot of gay men grew up on. Mainstream manufacturer gets bonus points for special outreach to the gay community via its "H2Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh!" ad campaign for the new "Liquid" formula.


  • Sex Grease: This is a dependable, pleasantly scented lube unique for its natural ingredients, which include herbal extracts of marigold, myrrh, carrot, chamomile, and elder.


  • Surgilube: Reputedly "used for more in-hospital procedures than any other surgical lubricant," this sterile substance may not ooze sexiness in its name or packaging, but its gelatinous texture and complete lack of sweetness and/or bitterness more than make up for it.


  • Wet: A popular gay-owned brand known for its great packaging, marketing, and community support, this ubiquitous lube has a seemingly infinite number of flavors and recipes--including a "Pheromone Formula" guaranteed to "drive your lover crazy!"

Silicone-Based Lubes

  • do not dry out, even under water
  • are compatible with latex condoms
  • are not absorbed by the body (silicone molecules are larger than skin pores)


  • are more expensive
  • are often greasy and hard to wash off
  • some users find them too slick and friction-inhibiting

Best Bets:

  • Eros: German-born. Europe's #1. The best. It's velvety yet non-greasy, has no taste, is odorless, and washes off easily. Plus, it performs triple duty as a moisturizer and massage lotion.


  • ID Millennium: A welcome addition to ID Glide's first class line, despite a slightly chemical smell. While not oily, it moonlights as a massage lotion.


  • Wet Platinum: It won't quit because it's by far the greasiest and quite tough to wash off. Thankfully, its makers have created a companion "Afterwash" to ease clean-up. Some may find its taste unpleasant.

Wetter is Better
Wetter is not only wilder. It's healthier. Armed with the above basics, it's time for you to get out there, test-drive these and other products, and find the personal lubricant for you.

"People are as passionately devoted to their brand as they are to their favorite television show or sexual fantasy," concludes Wolfe. "If you haven't experimented, you're probably missing out on a pathway to pleasure."

Updated: Wednesday, July 3rd 2002

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