The Wide and Slippery World of Personal Lubricant

By on October 28, 2014

Author Paul Whyte, Gel Works Pty Ltd

Making lubricant for sex is an art form that works with textures, and fluids to change the experience of friction to a tantalising, expression of delight, love, connection, excitement building to ecstasy.

My friends tell me that their first meeting with their favourite lubricant changed their sex life forever. They had time now to explore intimacy. There was no worry of drying out. No rush to get off before something changed or skin wore out. Foreplay could now take ages, an open ended expanse of communication and pleasure. There was easy leisure with their love making to explore the body and all the sensations that went with sex. They could stop, talk, massage, wrestle and everything stayed moist and slippery waiting for the waves of passion to build, pass and return again. Others with different tastes say, “there used to be just the sticky lubricants and now I can get straight to it, have fun and be on with my day with little messy wash up”.

A man in his 70’s when talking about being with his new girl friend said to me, “that Wet Stuff Gold of yours has me feeling like I’m 16 all over again! I’ve never had sex as good as I’m having now.”

Just as with the very best foods, wines or perfumes where the first taste or experience changes or develops through a journey with each sip or mouthful, so it can be with lubricants.

At sales conferences some shop owners try to impress me with their knowledge of the lubricant market with comments like, “all water based lubricants are the same” or “all silicone based lubricants are the same”. I just laugh. I think all humans are the same. We all came from and spend some time dwelling in some way on sex. The details are so different when you get to find out what sex is for a person that the similarities end at that point.

One of the very first pleasure products from antiquity, almond oil, has been revered for massage and sexual pleasure. It’s oily texture delights but stays the same as it slowly moves into the skin. With modern lubricants we have moved well past this simple range of textures. The vegetable oils have a small range of ingredients when you analyse the ingredients with modern laboratory machines. Just as with the oils, the first water based products gave a simple experience of just getting thicker a short time after beginning to use the product. Today, with the longer lasting lubricants in all varieties, the manufacturer’s pallet of ingredients is so much wider now, that changes in texture over time can be quite complex and we can choose what effect we want without love making and when that effect is to happen.


The attitude I hold that surprises people the most, from my experience, is that I have heard every lubricant on the market passionately praised by someone, “as the best lubricant they’ve ever tried”. I’m very happy about the very large range of lubricants on the market these days, so that whatever the preference is, whether it be for water based, silicone, synergy of both water and silicone or oil based, there is an adult shop that will have your near to perfect lube!

Most consumers will adore or praise about a third of the market at most and show little interest in other ranges. I ask people to listen to their bodies as they try lubricants to see what suits them and what they do with sex. The main function lubricants have is protecting the tissues from wear and condoms from breaking from stress. There as so many variations on this basic function that many different kinds of pleasure effects are possible.

While all lubricants can work for sex with fully healthy people, the nature of each formulation and the wide range of properties make some patterns of love making much more suited to just a few products. This is so varied that all the products in the market have their fan base of devoted users that find it “the best”.

The quickie now has many lubricants to choose from that work exceptionally well for the zipper-less experience. In water, silicone and synergy of water and silicone, there are products that last a short time as an excellent lubricant and then appear to vanish.  What they have in common is lots of water for the water based products. Wet Stuff Ultra that is used in many Gay clubs leaves little trace after 10 or 15 minutes from use. For the silicone products the ideal quickie lube has lots of fast flash-off silicones with very little or none of the medium time dry-off silicones. I’m about to put a new silicone on the market called Wet Stuff Touch that will last for about 10 minutes and at 20 minutes little trace is left on the skin. It’s great for massage and something quick. The low level of other ingredients means there is no residue to be washed off.

The lazy Sunday afternoon of sex and pleasures certainly have many formulations that will not only last the distance but change with the action or add tingles before becoming a protective glide surface. These days, there are both leave on and wash off products that do very well in this kind of slowed down love making. The longer lasting silicones and water based, do tend to need to be washed off. But even with the silicones, the medium drying time products like Wet Stuff Premium can last for longer periods and still vanish without need for wash off. Wet Stuff Secrets, the first water/silicone synergy product I made in 1997, has had a revamp, boasting three kinds of textures before vanishing into the tissues as a moisturiser. It gives a light cream texture to begin, that firms to add sensations of friction, before switching into a wear protective glide surface at about 20 minutes. Wiping it off with a good lube removing wipe like Wet Stuff Swipes can see the next application of lube go through the changes all over again. Wet Stuff Ignight adds tingles that peak in about 5 minutes and wain in about 20 minutes of cooling and a warm flush that can give many interesting peaks to a quiet afternoon of pleasure.

The tender tissues needs are very wide indeed and take very good listening, to get a good match with a customer’s needs and what lubricants they will love to use the most. I start by asking what the doctor says about the skin condition if there is anything medical involved. There are many solutions to a skin condition that the medical profession have, that first get seen as if it’s caused by a lubricant. The golden rule is that if a skin condition begins after using a lube and has not gone an hour after washing it off, see a doctor. Some women have challenges that are well met by the Wet Stuff with Aloe Vera lube. It has carbopol as the thickener, which holds moisture well, but does not change the natural viscosity that women have naturally. Wet Stuff Naturally also has its fans from the women who like the feel from their own innate lubricant and just need a little more water. The very varied nature of the health conditions have many of the wider commercial range being just right to un-usable for some people due to their condition. Adult shops these days have lots of supplies of free samples so that those issues can be dealt with, by just trying out many products.

I did not commit to being a sex lube scientist when I was going through Uni. I started making oil based lubricants for pocket money when completing my final year of course work in Chemistry. Through the research years studying natural product chemistry, then oil chemistry, the lube making grew to be larger than my research stipend and there was no stopping me. Gel Works was formed in 1982 and Wet Stuff was first made in 1986 to help in the lubrication of condoms. Most of my business contacts died in a few years after that from AIDS. I was in the last generation of young people to explore sex before HIV.

Personal lubricants are made in factories that either cosmetics or pharmaceuticals can be made in. The tanks, purified water process, mixing machines, filling machines, testing and quality system, that documents each step, from design through production and into dispatch, are almost the same. A small upgrade to the quality system and certification can see a cosmetic manufacturer make personal lubricants (classed as a Medical Device) or simple pharmaceuticals. The raw materials used, need to be assessed in a formally documented risk analysis that fits the needs of Australia’s Medical Device legislation and regulations, particularly the state of the legislative art the Essential Principles for Medical Devices. It’s a list of 13 points of safety derived from the European CE marking process by the Global Harmonisation Task Force GHTF, now taken over by the International Medical Devices Regulatory Forum IMDRF. The regulatory process takes some months for a newcomer to read through and understand. The faint hearted usually get a consultant to do that task and apply it to their lube for them.

As a member of international scientific committees connected to personal lubricants, I get to talk with scientists and manufacturers from around the world about safety issues. The research effort is expanding currently with new papers being published every month or so that, “turn the lights on,” in areas of personal lubricant science. A new study by the US CDC with monkeys and rectal lubricant demonstrates no addition risk, with a high osmolality water based lube, as an example of a new finding that has made some waves.

For an ingredient to be selected in a personal lubricant, a monograph needs to have been placed in one of the large pharmacopeia, by it’s manufacturer, and pass a series of tests in the product that are becoming more stringent each year.  There are about 100 different compounds that can be found in lubricants so I can’t go into details except that almost all are found at similar levels in ether foods, cosmetics or pharmaceuticals. The basic structure of a lube is common to all. There is a base like water, silicone or oil that is usually but not always texturally improved with a viscosity modifier. This is about the pleasure properties of the lube, it’s drying time and the range of viscosities it goes through in use. The water based products, mostly, but not always have water retaining compounds to extend dry times. They also need a preservative and pH buffer system that many of the tests check before marketing the product. The tingling lubricants also have spicy ingredients that delight the healthy but some medically challenged folks may not be able to handle. Doctors can help decide if a medical condition puts limits on a person’s sex life or sex products.  The warming lubricants are based on high levels of glycerine and propylene glycol, and heat, using the heat of dilution when body fluids dilute the lube at the start of use after a few minutes. The interesting thing about warming lubricants is that they are osmotic pumps that make their own moisture in contact with tissues that give water to the lube, greatly increasing the drying times of this type of water based lube. Depending on exactly which way the action goes, a warming lube will be thicker or thinner as the amount of exposed skin changes the water content. ‘Hide the sausage’,and the lube gets thinner, with more exposure of skin it becomes more viscous.

As an chemist I have a hobby of testing the markets formulations. I’m very impressed by some of the new lubricants I see. I’ve been researching the silicone markets’ formulations this last year or two and I’m impressed by the wide diversity that I’ve found. All of the theoretical extremes are found in the market currently. Thicker, thinner, quickie, fast glide surface formers, slow glide surface formers, silicones who’s viscosity stays the same for very long period, silicones that quickly get thicker then stay at that level, others that dry with no wash off, some need warm soapy water to remove. The chemistry of the silicones is simple and completely visible with gas chromatography as almost all of the silicone market use volatile silicones as the base. The range in the volatile silicones is very wide going from product to product. Like the colours in a rainbow. The silicone gum that gives the very low friction effect is a small part of the silicone products. There are very many possibilities with the silicone lubricants that are all determined by the mix of the very fast flash-off and slower less volatile silicones.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has the discretion to impose whatever level of control it wishes on Australian manufacturers and depending on the situation may audit a manufacturer without notice. The TGA keeps very close control over the testing labs that receive the samples of every batch made in Australia so if things go wrong they know about it quickly as part of the ordinary testing and audit process. It’s a very effective way to keep a close eye on an industry with very low cost to the consumer. Because of local lubricant manufacturing and the free market approach to regulation adopted by the TGA for lubricants,  Australia with it’s decision to class personal lubricants as class 1 medical devices, Australia has lower lubricant prices with world class quality, than most OECD countries. Anyone who travels, can easily see the challenge other countries have, in getting well priced lubricants out to the bulk of the population.  The TGA conducts regular independent testing of lubricant quality of it’s lube manufacturers, testing microbiology and preservative effectiveness, near the end of shelf life.

Especially in third world countries, lubricants for the population at large are in very short supply with only the highly priced and limited types of formulations of the supermarket brands available. By comparison, the adult shops in Australia have a tremendous range of personal lubricants. It’s like a golden age where pleasures can flourish with so much more than what most people are aware of!


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