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What is an Oil-Based Lubricant?

By Greer Hed
Updated May 17, 2024
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An oil-based lubricant is a personal lubricant that has an oil base rather than a water or silicone base. Examples of oil-based lubricants include baby oil and Vaseline® — also called petroleum jelly. Oil-based lubricants may be used during sexual intercourse to enhance the natural lubrication of the vagina or anus. They may also be used by both men and women to enhance masturbation.

Oil-based lubricants, however, have fallen out of favor as a personal lubricant for sexual intercourse. This is mostly due to the fact that they cannot be used in tandem with a latex condom — most oil-based lubricants cause latex to weaken and tear. Sex toys made of latex also can be damaged by oil-based lubricants. It is, however, possible to use an oil-based lubricant with a polyurethane condom.

Another reason for the decline in oil-based lubricant use is that this type of lubricant is reputed to cause vaginal infections. Many women believe that the use of an oil-based lubricant may be responsible for a subsequent yeast or bladder infection. There is one oil-based lubricant approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that does not increase the risk of infection for women. This lubricant is made with natural oils, but still has not been approved for use with latex condoms.

Oil-based lubricants can be more effective than the alternatives during prolonged sexual contact, as they retain their lubricating properties longer. For this reason, they are also more effective in providing lubrication in a non-sexual context; for example, a menopausal woman suffering from uncomfortable vaginal dryness may wish to relieve it with an oil-based lubricant. This type of lubricant also does not dissolve in water.

There are two alternatives to an oil-based lubricant: water-based lubricants and silicone-based lubricants. Water-based lubricants are primarily water, with glycerin, cellulose, or carrageenan added to enhance lubricity. Generally, water-based lubricants are safe to use with latex condoms, but those that contain glycerin or sugar may cause yeast infections in some women. This type of lubricant also cannot be used in water, as it is water soluble and will wash away.

Silicone-based lubricants primarily contain silicone. This type of lubricant is usually safe to use with condoms and other latex products, but is not always latex-safe. Silicone-based lubricants can also be damaging to sex toys made of silicone. This type of lubricant is longer lasting and less "sticky" feeling than some water-based varieties. It is also more difficult to wash off than oil- or water-based lubricants, and can cause skin irritation in some individuals.

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Discussion Comments
By browncoat — On Jan 13, 2013

@Ana1234 - Actually, that's a pretty good place to find more information about lubes if you are unsure what kind to pick. Even if you aren't interested in sex toys, their web sites almost always have a lot of information about which lubes work better in which situations.

The only thing you need to watch out for is that they might have a bias towards a particular brand because they sell that particular brand.

You just have to be careful not to use random lotions and things like that. I think people get into the habit of doing this as teenagers who are experimenting without the means to get proper lubricants and it can end up being really bad for you (particularly if the lotion damages your condoms).

By Ana1234 — On Jan 12, 2013

@Mor - Yeah, it can also lead to the condom breaking, if you don't use a lube with it. But most sex toy shops will sell lube fairly cheap and it seems like whenever you pick up free condoms, like say from a bar (all good bars provide a little basket of them in the corner) they provide a little sachet of lube as well. So, there's not much excuse for not using it properly.

By Mor — On Jan 11, 2013

It's really important to shop around and find the best kind of lubricant for you. It's one of those things that falls by the wayside when people are discussing sex (or is used as a punchline for jokes about anal sex) but it's a necessity for many people when having sex.

When you consider how much friction can potentially be going on when people have sex, you can see why it might lead to injury. Even if it just feels like a bit of soreness, hurting the skin in that area can really leave you open to infections, which isn't good for anyone.

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