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Why Not K-Y?

Mar. 10, 2011
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At her "Certified Orgasmic" workshop last weekend, Dr. Ruthie told participants that using a decent brand of sexual lubricant could go a long way toward enhancing their sex lives. "If you're using K-Y, throw it out," she stated bluntly. After the class was over, one of the attendees asked if I would write a column about this topic, since he found her comments about lube to be quite eye-opening. I published a column a couple of years ago with general information about types of lubricant, but it didn't answer this question: Why are some of the most popular brands of lubricant not recommended by sexuality educators?

Let me begin by saying that if you have a favorite brand of lubricant that is working well for you, I'm not going to tell you to change it. However, if you or your partner frequently experience burning, stinging or other irritation during sex, yeast infections or urinary tract infections after sex, or just don't feel things are wet or slippery enough, it's time to try a new lube.

Lots of people come into the Tool Shed looking for either K-Y or Astroglide brand lubricants and wonder why we don't carry them. One reason is that they are readily available at many drugstores, so there are other places that people can easily get these brands. But the main reason is that the original formulas of both K-Y and Astroglide contain both glycerin and parabens, which are ingredients that I recommend avoiding, primarily because glycerin can cause yeast infections in some women and because parabens can cause irritation in some people and have been inconclusively linked to cancer in some studies.

Aside from ingredients that can be irritating, there is the question of performance. Do these lubricants keep things slippery enough to enhance pleasure and minimize pain? There is a trope that I've heard repeated by many sex educators that K-Y is not a good sexual lubricant because it was originally developed for use by gynecologists during pelvic exams, so it wasn't made to last through a lot of thrusting or other prolonged sexual activities. This may be true of the original K-Y Jelly, but K-Y has several other products in their line that were specifically developed for use during sex, such as their heavily marketed "Yours+Mine Couples Lubricant." I'm not a fan because I think that their marketing promises much more than any product could actually deliver, "warming" and "cooling" lubricants usually cause more irritation than pleasure for people using them, and the same chemical ingredients listed above are present, in addition to honey, which definitely wouldn't be the first thing I would think of smearing on my genitals when looking to reduce friction.

There are some sexuality educators, most notably Tristan Taormino, who are fans of Astroglide. As I said above, to each his own. If you're looking for water-based lubricants, I will stick with my recommendation to seek out lubricants that are glycerin-free, paraben-free, organic, and/or use natural ingredients such as aloe vera or carrageenan (seaweed extract) for natural slipperiness. They are not only better for your body, but for some people they may also work better with the body's natural lubrication and generally feel more pleasant. Sliquid was one of the first lube companies to fit this bill, but there are more brands available every year, including Good Clean Love, Aloe Cadabra and Hula Pleasures, to name just a few.

It's worth noting that both K-Y and Astroglide have recently introduced glycerin- and paraben-free formulations, or "natural" lubricants. If you are a fan of these brands, you might want to give them a try. I still believe that the quality of lubes made by smaller, independent companies tends to be higher, but I'm glad that the success of these indie lubes has resulted in healthier options for everyone, even in your corner drugstore.

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.

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


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