Tucked away in New York's Lower East Side, among a jumble of old tenement buildings crisscrossed with iron fire escapes, is a boutique called Toys in Babeland. The storefront doesn't scream "sex shop" to passers-by, but it's a famous emporium of sexual aids.
There I met the store's co-owner, Claire Cavanah, to learn about sexual lubricants. Having opened Toys in Babeland in 1993, she's had nearly a decade of experience selling and using the stuff. Bottles and tubes of various lubes stand in rows on a counter, color-coded according to their properties: water-based or silicone-based, gloppy like hair gel, slick like saliva, or silky like lotion.
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Silicone-based lubes, Cavanah says, tend to be her customers' favorites. They stay wet for a long time, which is good for extended intercourse. "According to the manufacturer, it will stay wet for 10 years in the lab," she says. But silicone-based lubes may not be the best choice for people using sex toys made of silicone. Cavanah and others who sell them recommend silicone dildos and vibrators over those made of rubber because they're easier to clean. The surface has fewer tiny pores that could trap germs. But she says customers have reported that silicone lubes, over time, seem to react with the silicone toy and make its surface feel tacky, in effect ruining it.
A brand of water-based lube called Eros could be a good stand-in for those who like silicone products and also value their toys. "The water-based Eros really does feel a lot like silicone," Cavanah says. One advantage of water-based lubes, of which there are many other brands, is that they're water-soluble, so they wash away easily. But they dry up faster than silicone-based ones do. Also, Cavanah says female customers have complained that water-based lubes containing glycerin seem to promote vaginal yeast infections -- the idea being that glycerin, a sugar, feeds the yeast naturally present in the vagina. This notion has spread widely around the Internet, but there's scant scientific evidence to support it.
Consistency is another consideration in choosing a lube. The desired consistency depends partly on what you intend to do with it. "The thicker ones are better for anal sex," Cavanah says. Rectal tissue is more fragile than vaginal tissue. A thick lube reduces friction and abrasion more than a thin one does. Besides that, there aren't any rules about consistency. "I think thick lube is great all around," Cavanah says. But try rubbing a dollop between your fingers to get a sense of the consistency, and choose whatever feels best to you.