There are a lot – a LOT – of sexual lubricants available on the market today. Go into any sex shop and you’re likely to see rows upon rows of them. How do you even begin to know which to choose?
A lot of it is down to personal preference, compatibility with your particular body, and dependent upon what toys, condoms etc. you’re going to be using it with. I can’t tell you the perfect lube for you. What I can do, though, is point out some toxic ingredients commonly found in commercial sexual lubricants (as well as toy cleaning solutions, if those are a thing you use) which we would all be well advised to avoid.
1. Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulphate
What it is: Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth (ether) sulphate (SLES) are additives found in everything from household cleaning products to cosmetics. They’re what creates that foamy/lathery appearance and also used for their cleaning properties.
Why it’s toxic: SLS is a skin irritant. SLES is somewhat less irritating (which is why it’s the one you’ll more commonly see in personal care products) but it’s no less toxic. It also cannot be metabolised by the liver. Like many chemicals, these are absorbed into the body from skin application and both can cause damage to the skin, hair follicles, eyes and even the liver. In the body SLS can mimic the function of Oestrogen, possibly contributing to a range of hormonal problems from PMS to lowered fertility to increased risk of breast cancer.
What they are: Parabens (butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben) are preservatives. They are commonly used to prevent bacteria growth in cosmetics and other products.
Why they’re toxic: Like SLS and SLES, they’re xenoestrogens – meaning they mimic oestrogen in the body. Oestrogen disruption has been linked to breast cancer and other reproductive issues and in a 2004 study, parabens were found in malignant tumours. What’s more, there’s some evidence that they can be stored in the body and have an accumulative effect over time.
What they are: Pthalates are a common ingredient in cosmetics, lubes and many soft plastic or ‘jelly’ sex toys. They’re used to increase flexibility, durability and longevity in plastics. In lube and other cosmetics they can be used as binding agents or softeners.
Why they’re toxic: Research suggests that prolonged exposure to pthalates can alter the cycles of reproductive hormones with effects including delaying or suppressing ovulation. Studies have also linked them, variously, to asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, diabetes, neurodevelopmental issues and male fertility issues. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classes DEHP, a common phthalate, as a possible carcinogen. Some people have even experienced chemical burns when using products containing pthalates on their genital areas.
What it is: A colourless liquid found in all natural plant and animal fats, although it can also be produced synthetically. You’ll find it in lots of lubes because it is a humectant, which just means it attracts moisture to the area where it’s applied. It has a slightly sweet taste so is likely to appear in a lot of flavoured lubes in particular, but it pops up all over the place.
Why it’s toxic: Sugars and sugar derivatives simply do not belong in your vagina. Glycerin can increase the presence of candida, and this in turn can lead to yeast infections. Best avoided, particularly if you’re prone to them.
What it is: It’s what makes certain products smell nice. Beyond that? We haven’t a clue – under UK law at least, “parfum” or “fragrance” is a catch-all. It could mean any combination of hundreds of different potential ingredients which do not have to be listed separately.
Why it’s toxic: If you don’t know what it is or what it’s actually made up of, then I strongly recommend not putting it in your body.
6. Any numbing agent
What it is: Typically found in lubricants designed for anal sex, ingredients like benzocaine or lidocaine are basically anaesthetic agents. They’re used to partially, or even completely, numb the area they’re applied to.
Why it’s toxic: Do I really need to spell this out? If you need a fucking anaesthetic to have sex, then THIS IS SEX YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE HAVING. These products are sold on the strength of the idea that the receiving partner (particularly a female receiving partner) doesn’t actually want to be penetrated, and that anal sex is inevitably going to be painful and unpleasant.
There may be some discomfort with anal at first – that’s normal and why going slow and using plenty of (body-safe, non-toxic, no-freaky-ingredients) lube is vital IF it’s something both parties are enthusiastically into the idea of doing. (If you’re not: don’t do it. If your partner isn’t: don’t pressure them to do it!) Even more dangerously, pain is your body’s way of signalling that something is wrong. If you can’t feel it, you won’t know if sensitive tissues are being torn. Real damage can be done this way, which at best will be uncomfortable for a few days and at worst can be a serious medical emergency. JUST SAY NO TO A NUMB BUM.
To sum up:
You read the label when choosing foods, right? Please, please do the same when choosing lube, toy cleaner and even condoms (those “delay his climax” condoms, for example? They probably contain numbing agents.)
There are really good, safe, body-friendly products out there made by amazing ethical companies. They’re worth looking for. Ask for recommendations from those in the know, do your research, and above all READ THE LABEL.
My top pick for lube, always and forever, will be Sliquid.
I started this blog, in part, to realise my passion for informed, honest, transparent and freely available sex education for everyone. If the information here was valuable to you, please consider buying me a virtual coffee or even becoming a sexy patron. Thank you!