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
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.
Not for Sex
Toys in Babeland doesn't carry any oil-based lubes. In fact,
the massage oils they sell are kept on the opposite side of the store from the
lubes, so as not to confuse anyone. For many years, health officials have
discouraged people from using oil-based lubes because oils break down latex
rubber, causing condoms to fail. Only silicone- and water-based lubes are safe
to use with latex condoms. What's more, there's not much point in using skin
lotion, petroleum jelly, or cooking oils when so many products are made
specifically for sex. Oil is awfully messy, and it's really not meant to be put
in someone's vagina or rectum.