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Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010

Mythbusters—Sex Edition: Is Silicone Lube Flammable?

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I subscribe to a number of sexuality-related listservs and newsletters. A few months ago, on a list for high-school sexuality education teachers, a question popped up about whether silicone lubricant is flammable. Many of the questions on this list come from high-school students themselves, and teachers post them looking for correct answers. I initially dismissed this question as adolescent confusion about different types of silicone lube—the industrial kind of silicone lubricant that can be applied to door hinges and other moving parts is indeed flammable because it comes in spray cans and uses an aerosol propellant. The propellant is flammable, but not, I thought, the lubricant itself.

Then I saw the flammable properties of silicone lubes mentioned in the monthly newsletter of a well-respected sexuality educator. Has an urban legend been born, I wondered? Once something like this starts to pop up online, it's only a matter of time before someone walks into the Tool Shed and asks about it, so I decided to conduct a small experiment to prove or disprove this statement. Yes, for you, dear readers, I will light stuff on fire in my own home.

For my experiment, I used an old tester bottle of Eros Bodyglide (I mention that it's old because lubricant manufacturers occasionally change their formulas, so the current version on the market may not have exactly the same properties as the lubricant I used). This lubricant contains three forms of silicone compounds (dimethicone, dimethiconol and cyclomethicone). Most silicone lubes blend two or three silicone compounds in their formulations. I placed a small amount of the lubricant in a clean, dry, stainless steel dish and held a household match to it. Lo and behold, it did light, and it sustained a steady, low flame until all of the liquid in the lubricant had burned and only a white residue was left behind.

So, at least one formulation of silicone lubricant proved to be flammable in this experiment! Does this mean that you should stop using it? No, unless you are prone to using copious amounts and then smoking in bed. It takes exposure to an open flame for the lubricant to catch; the normal friction involved during sex isn't going to cause it to light up. It's not going to spontaneously explode, or any of the other crazy urban-legend-style concerns that often pop up. However, users may want to exercise caution if they use candles around the bedroom, for either ambience or for hot wax play.

There's already a misconception that silicone lubricant is not safe for use with latex condoms (which it is—it's oil-based lubes that are not condom-compatible), so no need for panic about flammability to further scare people away. Although it is a synthetic chemical, silicone lubricant can actually be useful to people who have sensitivities to other types of lube, since it contains very few ingredients and is relatively chemically unreactive compared to many of the ingredients found in some water-based lubes. So if you love your silicone lubricant, there's no need to change your ways.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to
laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the
Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.