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Better Sex With Lubricants

Sexual lubricants can enhance lovemaking for both men and women

En español | Lubricants boost the sexual pleasure of lovers of all ages — and genders. Marty Klein, Ph.D., a sex therapist in Palo Alto, Calif., says he recommends lube "to both members of every couple all the time." For men as well as women, as Klein puts it, "Wetter is better."

Couple smiling in bed. Personal lubricants are good for men, too.

Lubricants boost the sexual pleasure of lovers of all ages — and genders. — Yuri Arcurs/Alamy

You can demonstrate how lubricants enhance lovemaking without removing a single article of clothing. Try this:

  1. Close your mouth and dry your lips.
  2. Run a finger lightly over your lips, paying attention to how it feels.
  3. Now, lick your lips and your fingertip.
  4. Run the moistened finger lightly over your moistened lips.

Notice the difference? The sensation was heightened in Step 4, wasn't it? Indiana University researchers found much the same thing in a survey of 2,500 women, who rated sex with a lubricant as more enjoyable. And as the survey respondents' age went up, so did their satisfaction with lubricated lovemaking. A similar survey, this one of 1,874 men, linked lubes to another pleasure measure: They enabled the men to have sex of longer duration.

Best news of all? Lube improves sex immediately.

So why does such a thin slice of American lovers use it? Annual U.S. lubricant sales total just $165 million. Meanwhile, the nation spends more than twice that on condoms ($430 million) and six times as much on vibrators ($1 billion).

Why older men need the lube tube

Older men usually face two sexual challenges: arousal and erection. Although the media and Big Pharma focus almost exclusively on the latter, arousal issues can be equally problematic. Until around 50, many — OK, most! — men feel horny much of the time. After 50, by contrast, the sight of a shapely bod no longer automatically excites the beholder. The first time this happens, it leaves you feeling confused and apprehensive: confused because it's such a radical break from the past, apprehensive because you start to fear for your sex life.

Relax. Arousal is still possible — it's just no longer fast. As men age, their genitals become less sensitive to erotic touch. For this reason, arousal requires more extended caressing. Lube to the rescue! It intensifies erotic touch, allowing older men to get aroused and enjoy sensual pleasure.

Better sex is just a squeeze away

In the finger-on-lips test, the lubricant was saliva — effective, available and free. But saliva is more watery than slippery, and it tends to dry quickly. Most lovers find that commercial lubricants work better.

Four types of over-the-counter lubes are available at pharmacies, usually shelved near the condoms:

1. Water-based. These are the most widely used lubricants. They're inexpensive and won't stain bed linens, and small amounts can be ingested safely during oral sex. If you still use contraception, water-based lubes are safe to use with latex contraceptives (mainly condoms and diaphragms). During extended lovemaking, however, water-based lubes dry out. Apply more, or refresh them with water or saliva. They rinse off easily with water.

2. Oil-based. These lubricants include vegetable oils and nut oils, available at supermarkets. They're safe to ingest, obviously, and likewise safe with latex contraceptives. However, some find them greasy, and they may stain bed linens. Oil-based lubes wash off with soap and water.

3. Silicone-based. These lubes are essentially intimate adaptations of good old WD-40. Not only do they feel silky and retain their slickness longer than water-based lubes, they are not messy and they're safe with latex. Silicone-based lubricants don't stain bed linens, and they wash off with soap and water. It's not clear how safe they are to ingest, though — so don't volunteer as a test subject.

4. Petroleum-based. It's best to avoid lubricants such as Vaseline and baby oil. Don't use them inside the vagina; they change vaginal chemistry, increasing the risk of infection. Petroleum-based lubes should never be ingested, and they may stain bed linens. Finally, these lubricants dissolve latex: Never use them with a condom or diaphragm.

Nuts and bolts

Lubricants should not be applied directly to the genitals. Instead, squeeze a small amount into your hand, warm it by rubbing with your fingers, then caress your lover or yourself with your lubricated fingers.

If you still have vaginal intercourse and use condoms, be careful with lubricants: They increase the risk of slip-offs. Move gently during intercourse; then, when you withdraw, one of you should hold the condom on the penis.

Michael Castleman writes about love, sex and relationships for AARP Media.

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Hot Topic: The best sex of your life — after 50. Two relationships experts, Drs. Dorree Lynn and Pepper Schwartz, focus on how to keep romance alive in your life.

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