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Aqua by Pjur (center)
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Anyone who has ever taken basic Physics, which is a graduation requirement at MIT, can tell you that friction is the arch-nemesis of motion. Friction always opposes motion, and whenever bodies are in contact, a la intercourse, there will be friction. Some friction is a good thing, but too much can lead to painful consequences. When that happens, the result isn’t pleasant for either partner. Usually there’s a chain reaction: if a partner goes dry, the other partner goes soft. Many a virgin has botched an attempt at losing it because of too much friction.

Luckily, most women naturally lubricate during arousal. Even then, it can only go so far. For the more adventurous, natural lubrication doesn’t do anything to help anal sex. Attempting anal for the first time without the use of synthetic lube sounds equally as painful as natural childbirth. Lube isn’t just for anal sex, though. That’s what prompted me to learn more about it.

For all the sexual health items out there, lube isn’t usually considered a necessity; if anything, it’s a luxury item. Condoms are usually lubricated, and some consider that enough. With of all my previous random hookups, I can’t say that I’ve ever encountered a guy who kept a bottle of lube at hand. If I had, I would’ve thought it was just “lube at first sight;” or, I would’ve run in terror. Thinking back on it, the first time I tried lube, I actually developed a rather nasty yeast infection, which was enough to keep me away for over a year.

The drugstore brands of lubricants are almost always water-based. The benefit is that water-based lube dries up afterwards and they don’t degrade latex condoms. However, that also means that it typically doesn’t last as long as a silicone-based product. For this reason, it is a really bad idea to use them during anal sex. For those insistent on a drugstore brand for anal usage, try water-based Astroglide, but stay away from the warming version.

Those brave enough to venture into an “adult” store (or use the Internet) will find that there are many more options. Silicone based lubricants not only last longer, but they’re not difficult to clean. I either use baby wipes or towels. For this reason, silicone lubes are much better for anal usage: the wetness still feels natural, and it lasts. Unfortunately, some of these lubricants can smell of burning rubber. Then there’s the problem of sex toys. Most sex toys are silicone, and silicone-based lubes with silicone toys lead to your favorite toys becoming a ruined gummy mess.

For those hesitant about chemicals, there are also vegan and organic lubricants. When judging lubes, one should consider the factors of dry-out, smell, and stickiness. No one wants to constantly reapply lube, just as no one wants to smell like burnt rubber. With all these options out there, what’s a college student to do? Here’s our take on a few of the products on the market.

Pjur

Aqua, $16.99 for 3.4 oz

Pjur Original Bodyglide,

$24.00 for 3.4oz

Lena: Though I’m not one to encourage herd mentality, Pjur Original is the best-selling silicone-based lubricant in the world, and in this case, it makes sense to follow the masses. Unlike its competitors, Pjur doesn’t include aphrodisiacs or scents in its lubricants, and that’s fine by me since I’m more interested in the actual lubrication than I am in frou-frou additions. Pjur Original and Aqua, its water-based formula, are two of my favorite lubricants because they never dry out, and they don’t get sticky either. (Trust me, I’ve tried rubbing some between my palms and the lube was entirely absorbed by my skin.) The German company, whose name is pronounced “pure,” not “puh-jour,” has an extensive product line with specially formulated lubricants for an array of activities and participants (men, women, anal sex, etc.). As a plus, bottles come in a sleek, cylindrical design so minimalist that they could be mistaken for shaving cream. If you’re easily embarrassed about the contents of your shopping basket, this is as discreet as it gets.

Grade: A

Christine: I had never tried silicone-based lube until Pjur, and, honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. This brand has converted me into an avid silicone lube user. With silicone lubes, you can use less, as they’re more concentrated. A little bit lasts, even in the water-based version, and there’s also no scent. It’s not sticky, and it’s gentle. It makes the sex smooth, without adding any strange sensations. It came off easily afterwards, and I thought my skin even felt softer. Honestly it is just lube, plain and simple: I would call it the most no-bullshit lube out there.

Grade: A

Empowered Products

Pink Silicone Lubricant, $15.99 for 3.3 oz

Lena: Empowered Products has two product lines, Pink for women and Gun Oil for men, which come in silicone- and water-based varieties. The men’s line claims to have been developed by a group of marines who based the formula on the military-issue gun oil they used to jerk off “while hunkered down in the trenches of Kuwait” during Operation Desert Storm. Upon scent and touch, this just seems like your standard unscented, no-nonsense lubricant to me, but longer usage demonstrates that Gun Oil was made to last. A dollop of the stuff, which has a just-thick-enough consistency, is enough to keeps thing slippery with the need for constant reapplication. Pink, which is slightly thinner, is even more economical. Just a few drops of it will do!

Grade: B

Christine: I love the bottle design for Pink, and it’s recommend by many women’s magazines. However, I find that Pink requires me to use a little bit more than I would expect from a silicone-based product. While the bottle design is cute for Pink, it’s easy to get hardened residue clogging the nozzle. I thought these products were inconsistent in their consistencies across their lines. I liked Gun Oil the best. It had the best consistency: not sticky or thick. And I wouldn’t mind having this as my go-to lube. However, some of the Pinks were thin, and others made up for this by being slightly gloppy.

Grade: A-

KY Jelly

Personal Lubricant, $5.50 for 2.5 oz

Lena: Often considered the go-to drugstore brand, KY Jelly is unfortunately all hype, no substance. Like Trojan condoms, KY Jelly has done a remarkable job of pushing its products and as a result, is the most successful lubricant brand on the market. But take it from someone who once braved the CVS checkout line at 16 with a bottle of KY Warming Liquid in hand: Stay away! I spent years defaulting to KY because I knew no other brands, and I can tell you that you might as well save your money. KY products don’t last long enough for anal but are way too much for vaginal sex. They have a tendency to dry out fast, feel extremely thick (perhaps because they were originally meant for surgical use — take that as you will), and become a sticky, gummy mess. I’m giving KY a C-, but I am, after all, a student at Harvard, the land of grade inflation and Gentlemen’s Bs, so I think we all know what this grade really means.

Grade: C-

Christine: KY Jelly is the first lube I’ve ever tried. It was supposed to help make sex less painful, and instead, I got a nasty yeast infection from it. My naïve high school self believed this was the only lube on the market, and I just gave up on lube afterwards. It was such a pain to have to constantly reapply it during sex, and then I would feel even more dried out than I was to begin with. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s anything nice I can say about this brand. On second thought, it doesn’t really smell of anything, but it doesn’t really do anything either.

Grade: D

Kama Sutra

Love Liquid, $11.99 for 3.4 fl. oz.

Lena: Try to ignore the cheesy name and focus on the fact that you can score a bottle of bliss for under $15. Though the bulk of Kama Sutra products are romance-related items, like massage oil and body paint, they’re also the makers of a stand-out lubricant. Love Liquid blows its over-the-counter counterparts away with an easily absorbable formula perfect for gliding and sliding without leaving behind gooey remainders. Indian magic at work? Probably not, but I’ll settle for what I can get.

Grade: B+

Christine: Love Liquid is a water-based lubricant that has a good consistency. It’s not too thick, and it’s not too sticky either. There’s also no strong scent. The bottle claims it’s lightly textured, but I didn’t notice any texture. I’m not sure that I would enjoy texture either, as that implies more friction. I’m not a fan of grooved or twisted condoms, but I realize that some people enjoy these products. If you’re looking for texture, I didn’t notice it here. However, for a reliable water-based lube, I would recommend it.

Grade: B+

Hatho Aphrodisia

Lubricant Pure, $22.00 for 4 oz.

Lena: I really wanted to like this one, and at first, I did. Unscented and vegan-friendly, Hathor Aphrodisia’s Lubricant Pure initially reminded me of Pjur because it obeys the cardinal rule of lube: slippery, not sticky. Unfortunately, after giving Lubricant Pure a few goes, I was sold on its claims of being “soothing and gentle” and decided to apply it quite liberally during a sex session a few days after a painful gynecology appointment. I don’t know if it was my scarred cervix (poor thing) or the formula’s Horny Goat Weed, an aphrodisiac, but the burning sensation that resulted was alarming enough (not painful, but alarming) that I commented on it mid-intercourse. My boyfriend described my insides as “rather warm” but given my overly sensitive nether regions, I decided to permanently ban Hathor from my bathroom cabinet for fear of vaginal post-traumatic stress disorder. If you’re a fan of heating lubes, however, I’d recommend this over the KY variety any day. Whether or not the ingredients contain purported aphrodisiac properties, Jujube Zizyphus and Siberian Ginseng sound a lot less suspicious than some of the things I’ve seen on ingredient labels.

Grade: B+

Christine: Whenever a lube claims to be flavored, my curiosity always gets the best of me. I’m not sure who came up with concept of flavored lube, but I still haven’t encountered anything that doesn’t taste synthetic. Hathor Aphrodisia comes in an unscented, unflavored form, and then there’s Chocolate-Strawberry. Who doesn’t love the taste of chocolate mixed with strawberries? I thought this would solve the conundrum of hand job with lube or blowjob, by allowing me the best of both worlds. Instead, I was drowning my disappointments with water. While it’s vegan friendly, that doesn’t excuse the fact it looks like brown goop. It also didn’t smell of chocolate or strawberries. My partner and I were both immediately reaching for the baby wipes. The brown coloring I mentioned earlier made it look like I was spotting, which was a major mood killer. In the unscented version, we had better luck. First of all, it wasn’t brown. Nor did it stink. The unscented version allowed me to actually test the lube. I discovered that, while it was smooth, it still dried out quickly. However, it still lasted longer than some water-based lubes.

Grade: C

Astroglide

Astroglide Liquid, $5 for 2.5 oz.

Lena: The first syllable of this lubricant’s moniker is an indication of where it is best applied. I purchased my first bottle when a mailing list I read concluded that Astroglide was the best lubricant for anal sex. Four years later, my experiences with anal are still rather limited, but I credit Astroglide for being the only thing that kept me from huddling in the corner after the deed was done. (It hasn’t disappointed in vaginal intercourse, either). Yes, the purple bottle is slightly gaudy, and no, the company doesn’t have a huge product line, but thanks to its non-greasy, slick, and long-lasting properties, Astroglide is the cheapest, reliable option whether you’re knocking on the backdoor, getting it on missionary-style, flying solo, or prepping a Slip ’N Slide.

Grade: A-

Christine: I first heard of Astroglide when it came to anal sex. Actually, I think it was from Tucker Max’s infamous anal sex story, where he discusses squeezing half a bottle of it in a girl’s ass. As he learns in that story, a 4-ounce bottle usually lasts 6 months of frequent sex. Two ounces of it is just asking for a slippery mess. A little bit of this liquid goes a long way. It’s not sticky, and for the price, it’s a great value. While I still prefer my silicone lubes (which just lasts longer), I don’t mind using Astroglide. It actually evokes nostalgia, as it’s the lube that made me realize how much of a difference lube can actually make. There have been times during an extra long sex session that I will stop and reapply this, but for most sexual encounters, I’ve never had any issues. It’s also the easiest to get, as it’s available at most drug stores.

Grade: B+