photo of a large drum of industrial lubricant

There are no commercially available sex lubes that aren't chock-full of chemicals. So I'll start by telling you the one non-chemically based lube that my friends at A Woman's Touch recommend when latex condoms are not part of the mix: coconut oil.

The gynecologists I have polled in the past would often recommend olive oil. But olive oil molecules are too long to be absorbed into the walls of the vagina. As a result, much of the olive oil can stay in the vagina after intercourse, remaining in the rear of the vagina where some couples say it can start to smell rancid.

Coconut oil, on the other hand, is one of the few oils with short-chain molecules. This is why it will absorb into the epithelium of the vagina instead of pooling there and possibly smelling funky. 

Unfortunately, there is no science on any of this. It's not like the people who make KY are going to fund research that compares coconut oil with their high-priced chemical lube, especially when coconut oil might outperform KY.

At the heart of the problem is how the FDA considers sex lubes to be cosmetics. This means that sex lubes aren't evaluated for use in mucus membranes such as the vagina, rectum or urethra-where absorption of chemicals into your bloodstream can be quite high.

Companies that make sex lubes have fought any efforts for reclassification of sex lubes. They prefer the status quo, as current regulations allow lube makers to put anything they want into lube as long as it's on an extensive list of approved skin moisturizer ingredients. I recently found that at least two of the ingredients in one of the lubes I used to recommend are listed in the Hazardous Chemicals Desk Reference.

Also, lube-makers will often claim that their lubes are "hypoallergenic," even though their lubes contain paraben and glycol, which are known allergens for some women. When I checked with a staff member of the FDA and asked what the criteria for hypoallergenic lube is, he couldn't find any criteria.

So, if it were me, I'd consider trying a bit of fresh pure coconut oil (as opposed to coconut oil that's been sitting on a shelf for awhile). But I have no science to back this up with, and it might be a terrible idea for some women. On the other hand, I'm not so sure that recommending coconut oil is is any worse than recommending a commercially-produced lube that contains ingredients that are listed in the Hazardous Chemicals Desk Reference.

As for condoms and oil-based lube, the one male condom you can safely use with oil-based lubes is the Trojan Supra. Unlike other polyurethane condoms that were on the market, the Supras don't make crinkly plastic-bag like sounds. Plus, they transmit body heat a lot better than latex condoms and some couples prefer them to latex condoms. 

On the other hand, they don't stretch quite as much as latex condoms, so if the penis is on the jumbo side or if it's a bit more girth-challenged and requires a snugger-fitting condom, the Supras might not be the best choice. But for the other 75% of men, the Supras can be a really good choice and they allow the couple to use oil-based lubes.

There is also the FC female condom, which is now made from nitrile. It plays well with oil-based lubes. 

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About the Author

Paul Joannides

Paul Joannides, Psy.D., is a research psychoanalyst, the author of Guide To Getting It On, and a speaker on college campuses.

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