For some folks, lube works as their introduction to kink — or, at the very least, to sex that’s a lot more stimulating and fun than what they’d previously experienced. Others put their lube to work as more of a functional thing, to get rid of that pesky little issue of “personal dryness” or reduce friction and keep discomfort out of their sex lives. You may fit into one, either or neither of those categories — whatever your reasoning, we’re glad you’re here!
But as reductive (and problematic) as binaries are in so many things, you’ll find, as you first get into using lube, that you’ll most readily find water-based and silicone varieties. Both can be excellent; it’s just a matter of finding the best situations for each one! With that in mind, we put together this guide exploring silicone vs. water-based lube so you find the best kind for your various sexual needs.
What is the main difference between silicone and water-based lube?
Well, the obvious difference between water and silicone lube is the main ingredient in each product. But there’s more to it than that, of course! Let’s break it down a bit more granularly:
Water-based: Alongside our good friend H₂O, most water-based lubricant contains a handful of other substances to give it the gel-like consistency that’s necessary for keeping everything moisturized. These are often fairly simple and harmless chemical compounds like glycerin and pentylene glycol. Being water-based means this lube is water-soluble, so it can quickly be washed away with a quick touch from a damp cloth.
Silicone lube: This type of lube is made using — you guessed it — silicon-based polymeric compounds. It’s thicker than its water-based counterpart, so it feels (and applies) more like a cream than a gel, though this also means it takes longer to clean up. Also, in almost all cases, silicone-based lubricant is hypoallergenic, which isn’t necessarily true of other lube varieties.
Is one better than the other?
This is a totally reasonable question to ask, and we’d love to give an instant, succinct answer — but the most truthful response is “It depends.” (Sorry. We know that can be frustrating to hear.)
“OK,” you say back, “it depends on what?” Let’s talk about it:
How long are you having sex? We said earlier that a water-based lube will be water-soluble. So unless you have your trysts in an igloo or other incredibly cold environment (as may be your wont; we certainly don’t kink-shame here), you’re going to sweat, which means your lube dissolves more quickly. Point being: If you and your partner are having sex for hours and hours, silicone lube will hold up to that level of intensity, without having to be re-applied every 10 minutes or so (as is generally the case with water-based lubes).
Where are you having sex? Going at it in the shower can be one of life’s distinct pleasures; no doubt about it. But water-based lube just won’t hold up under the sort of pressure coming down from your shower head. (Especially if it’s one of the movable ones, if you know what we mean, and we think you do.)
That being said, if you’re in bed, or around any furniture, there’s always the risk that silicone lube will stain it, and if you’re being adventurous in a part of the house with hardwood floors, that stain might last for months. Bottom line is that matter what, silicone lube is almost always harder to clean up.
What are you up to sexually? Generally speaking, this isn’t anyone’s business but you and your partner’s, but it factors into making the best choice between different types of lube. For example, silicone lubricants are much more ideal for anal sex because of their thickness, cushioning and durability. This also makes them particularly well-suited to masturbation.
On the other hand, if you’re using toys, you have to be mindful of their relationship (so to speak) with your lube: A lot of the sex toys you’ll typically find at your local adult boutique or online are made with silicone and other, similar plastics. When regularly using silicone lube and toys together, the former can wear on the surface of the latter. While this won’t destroy the toys or anything like that, if you don’t wash them regularly, the reaction between the materials creates small corroded spaces where bacteria can fester. YIKES.
Now, we’re not saying this is guaranteed! Just that you have to be extra sanitary. Alternatively, you can go with a water-based lube when you want to break out your silicone toys, and save the silicone lube for your toys that are made of glass, non-silicone plastics, stainless steel, leather or other materials. (Never underestimate the diversity of the sex-toy market, after all.)
What are water and silicone lubricants both good for?
As we’ve discussed, there are some situations where water-based lube is obviously the better choice, and others in which silicone lubes are much more ideal.
But often enough, your choice of lube is just that — a matter of personal preference. Both of these lubes are safe to use with latex condoms and their non-latex counterparts (not nearly as popular, but necessary for those with latex allergies). Also, both of them help to soothe sensitive skin on, in and around the genitals, though some folks say that water-based lube is better for this purpose while others swear by silicone. Again, it’s all a matter of taste.
What types of lube should I avoid?
Look, we don’t like to use this blog to be disparaging about anything, as long as we can help it. But there are a few things we absolutely have to advise against:
Avoid oil: Not because these lubes don’t serve their purpose, but because they can weaken latex condoms — sometimes to the point of breakage. That’s simply not a risk you can afford taking. They’re also linked to a higher likelihood of bacterial infection.
Don’t use other skin-care products as substitutes: Hand lotion, facial moisturizers and aloe vera gels do the same thing as lube, basically….right? WRONG. They don’t moisturize in the same way and they dry up a lot faster.
Don’t get creative with personal lubrication: We don’t even recommend oil made specifically as sexual lubricant, so we definitely don’t endorse any other oils (baby, olive, vegetable, etc.) for the purpose. The same goes for honey, butter and even saliva.
Wet offers numerous varieties of both water- and silicone-based lube, so take a look at our selection and figure it out for yourself!