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Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014

Help! My Lube Is Burning Me

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Why can’t I find a lubricant that is paraben- and glycerin-free, as well as aloe? They are burning and irritate me.

I get lots of questions about lubricant. It’s supposed to make sex more pleasurable, yet it can also cause so many problems—burning sensations, irritation and yeast infections among them. What should you do if you’re a sensitive type?

You mention two key ingredients to avoid—parabens and glycerin. Parabens are added to many body products as a preservative, and glycerin is added to lubes to make them slippery. Some people are sensitive to one or both of these ingredients, and when people describe a “burning sensation” when using a particular type of lube, I often suggest trying a brand that’s paraben-free. All of the products that Sliquid makes are paraben-free and glycerin-free, so I recommend starting with their H20 liquid lube or Sassy gel lube, as those have the fewest ingredients.

You also mention aloe. I can’t tell from your question if you’re looking for a lubricant that is aloe-based or aloe-free, but there are lubricants out there, such as Aloe Cadabra and Good Clean Love, that are almost 100% aloe and do not contain parabens or glycerin. If people are looking for organic lubricants or lubes that are moisturizing, aloe can be a good choice—just stick with brands that are mostly aloe rather than brands that just use aloe as one of many other ingredients.

Even aloe lubricants can be irritating to some. If you can’t find a water-based or aloe-based lubricant that works for you, you might want to try 100% silicone lubricants or coconut oil. 100% silicone lubricants, such as Pjur brand, have just one type of ingredient—different forms of silicone—and are synthetic, so they don’t react with the body’s tissues the way water-based or aloe-based lubes might. In my work as a sex educator, I have only encountered one person who experienced irritation from silicone lubricants, so although it can happen, it’s rare. The downside of silicone lubricants is that they are not compatible with most silicone toys, so might degrade the surface of vibrators, dildos, butt plugs or cockrings made of silicone. Some manufacturers of high-quality silicone toys (like We-Vibe and Tantus) say that it’s OK to use high-quality silicone lubricants like Pjur with their toys, but this is not universally true for all toys and all lubes. Silicone also stains sheets and clothing more easily since it’s not water-soluble.

Coconut oil may be another option. I don’t recommend oil-based lubricants in general, because when used vaginally, they can cause bacterial infections or irritation. They also can’t be used with latex products, such as condoms, diaphragms and some sex toys, because oil causes latex to break down. But for some people, coconut oil works well as a sexual lubricant and seems to cause less irritation or infection than other types of oils. If water-based, aloe-based and silicone lubricants have not worked for you, it might be worth trying coconut oil, as long as you are not using latex condoms for STI protection or contraception. There are non-latex condoms available (such as the FC2 female condom, Lifestyles Skyn and Trojan Supra Bareskin) that are more expensive than latex condoms, but compatible with oil-based lubricants.

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