Personal lubricant is undergoing a renaissance, and truthfully, it's about time. For decades our perception of lube has been restricted to sexist stereotypes: At best, it was a nondescript bottle tucked away in your bedside table. At worst, it was a sign of insufficiency in the bedroom—a last resort for women unable to do what our body is “supposed to” during sex.
Now these stereotypes are being broken down by a new generation of sexual wellness founders, who are transforming lube’s reputation from shameful to sexy and stylish. Aesthetically minded brands like Runi, Maude, Dame, Foria, and Playground have emerged during the last few years, designing packaging and formulas that you’d be proud (or at least not monumentally embarrassed) to display in your night table or keep front and center in your medicine cabinet.
According to Wow Tech Group (which owns sex toy brands We-Vibe and Womanizer), there was a 200% increase in lube sales in 2020, and sex expert and Ask Goody founder Goody Howard says sales of sexual wellness items on her website jumped dramatically during the pandemic in April 2020, the point at which many of us were sitting around twiddling our thumbs and thinking, Well, how can I entertain myself while stuck inside? (Hint: The answer was to twiddle something else entirely.)
“The pandemic gave us a green light to explore pleasure in different ways because we were all at home, and conversation around lube was expanded to include people that used pleasure tools,” she says.
The sexual wellness market is estimated to reach a $112 billion valuation by 2030, which makes sense considering we were all collectively a lot hornier in 2022. Sexy movies and TV shows like Bridgerton, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, The Sex Lives of College Girls, and the forthcoming The Idol are dominating our screens, and frank conversations around sexuality and gender are becoming more widely accepted in popular culture.
“We have been taught that if our bodies aren’t producing lubrication on their own, something is wrong with us.” —Luna Dietrich, sex educator
Despite how essential sex coaches and educators consider lube in anyone’s partnered or solo sexual routine, it’s taken quite a few years to rebrand personal lubricant as something intrinsic and desirable for all consumers—even those who are hesitant to talk about sex.
Like so many aspects of human sexuality, much of the shadowy discourse surrounding lube boils down to cultural taboos, which can vary widely depending on where you’re located. “Historically, there has been so much stigma,” says Luna Dietrich, sex educator and business coach. Systems of oppression such as Christian imperialism, purity culture, the patriarchy, and white supremacy are key factors in what she calls “pleasure oppression,” which has disrupted the conversation around lube and the desire to make sex feel more pleasurable.
Whatever the case, most people have been shy to admit that lube is something they need or enjoy. Dietrich believes this stems from conventional body standards: “We have been taught that if our bodies aren't producing lubrication on their own, something is wrong with us,” she says. “So of course we will hold shame around it, making it very difficult to talk about and difficult to advocate for.”
$48.00, Saks Fifth Avenue
Howard also points to sexism and ageism for lube’s bad rap. “Most people think that it’s only for older people and folks that ‘just can't get wet,’” she says. But following 2020’s sexual awakening, lube has become more widely accepted. “That ‘awakening’ coupled with folks engaging in social media differently ushered a boost in the approval rating for lubricant in partnered sex.”
Of course, credit for much of lube’s increased acceptance in the larger social discourse must be paid to the LGBTQ+ and sex-worker community. Raquel Savage, a therapist, educator, and sex worker, has noticed an uptick in sexual wellness content on social media. “Conversations around sex and pleasure are now trickling into mainstream discourse because more people are following sex workers' principles, values, and practices,” she says. “The pandemic and apps like TikTok have made conversations about sex more frequent, accessible, and popularized but not necessarily less stigmatized.”
Fighting that lingering stigma and shame is a key objective for many sex educators, whether through conversations with clients or sharing their knowledge on social media. “Remind yourself that you are allowed to orient to pleasure and that lube may be able to help with that,” says Dietrich. “Don't underestimate how sexy it can be to speak out loud what you are wanting. The most fun and healing people to have sex with are team players in pleasure.”
“I wanted the packaging to inspire people to touch, which is just like lube—it should inspire you to play and to touch.” —Felicia Hershenhorn, founder and CEO of Runi
Lube can also spice up the bedroom. As Casey Tanner, MA, LCPC, the CEO of sex therapy platform The Expansive Group, points out, there are dozens of new and exciting lube options on the market to explore. “Now that lubricants with added benefits, such as CBD, have been introduced, they can also offer people a sense of newness, something many of us are craving after the pandemic has rendered our sexual routines a bit flat.”
$20.00, Urban Outfitters
Sexual wellness brands also seem to be targeting female-identifying consumers to take more ownership over their sex life. Felicia Hershenhorn, founder and CEO of Runi, designed the Play Primer with attractive packaging in mind. “I really wanted to create something chic,” she says. “Contemporary but not obnoxious, loud but not in your face. Like French fashion at its best—a matte red, curves, and color.”
Hershenhorn recognized that many lube offerings weren’t conducive to the realities of sexual health and habits in the modern era. “If it falls out of your purse, people will be like, ‘Wow, that’s gorgeous.’ You can bring it on a night out because it’s small and adorable. You’re not going to be embarrassed. I wanted the packaging to inspire people to touch, which is just like lube—it should inspire you to play and to touch.”
In the past year, options for aesthetically minded and high-quality lube have skyrocketed, with oil-, silicone-, and water-based formulas hitting the shelves at your local sex shop or online. And yes, Amazon does sell plenty of lube.
“Choosing a lubricant is a very personal decision,” says Howard. “You want to make sure you don't have any allergies to the ingredients and it works for the kind of sex you're having. For example, if it needs to be condom compatible and safe for pleasure tools, oil-based won't be an option for you. If you're having anal sex, you want to lean more toward a silicone or a jelly-texture product. Self-pleasure pros would probably need silicone- or water-based lube for lasting slip. Sex in the shower is a silicone lube’s dream. My personal faves may not be yours, so take what works for you and leave what doesn’t.”
If you’re still not sure how to best incorporate lube into your sexual routine, don’t be afraid to ask questions and look to sex-positive resources online, like @afrosexology_, @queersextherapy, @luna__dietrich, and Kink Media's Youtube series Sexxx Ed. And, as Howard reminds us, “Once you get the info, don't keep it to yourself—share it with your friends! Sharing is caring, especially when it comes to sexual health and pleasure.”
Originally Appeared on Glamour