Vaseline, or petroleum jelly, is an oil-based ointment. It’s soft, sticky, and smooth. It can also warm easily in your hands. It seems as if Vaseline would make a great lubricant for sex. The truth is, many better options exist. Vaseline should only be used if you’re in a pinch and don’t have a more appropriate alternative.

Learn why Vaseline isn’t such a great lube option and what you should use instead.

What the science says

Having sex without lubricant may be unpleasant. Friction with dry skin can be uncomfortable, even painful. Friction during intercourse can also cause tiny tears in the thin skin of the vagina, penis, or anus. This increases your and your partner’s risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Vaseline isn’t an ideal lube for sex. However, it can be used if no better options are available. If you decide to use the thick jelly as lube, keep these factors in mind:

  • It has staying power. The petroleum-based product may actually last longer and not dry out as quickly as water-based lube. That has a downside, too. Vaseline can be difficult to clean or wash away after sex. It may take several days for the lube to work its way out of your body entirely.
  • Vaseline may increase your risk of infection. Because the jelly sticks around longer than other lubes, it may invite bacteria to set up an infection. According to one study, women who use petroleum jelly inside their vaginas are 2.2 times more likely to test positive for bacterial vaginosis than women who don’t use petroleum jelly.
  • Petroleum jelly weakens condoms. If you’re planning to use latex or polyurethane condoms, you can’t use Vaseline. Petroleum jelly is incompatible with latex products and it will weaken these types of condoms. The condom may break or tear during sex and can lead to unintended pregnancy or STIs.
  • Vaseline is messy. Petroleum-based products may stain sheets or clothing with greasy spots. If you plan to use Vaseline as a lube, protect your sheets or any fabrics you may come in contact with to avoid stains.

What to use instead

Personal lubricants intended for use during sexual intercourse are your best lube option. These are typically water- or silicone-based. They’re designed for the delicate tissues and environments of a vagina or anus. Therefore, they are less likely to cause infections. They’re also less likely to cause irritation or itching.

Personal lubricants are designed to be highly effective for intercourse. They are slippery and smooth and provide very little resistance during sex. You can buy these lubes at pharmacies, grocery stores, and specialty stores.

As a bonus, these water-and silicone-based lubes are safe to use with condoms. They won’t weaken the condom’s material. Keep a bottle of lube on hand with your condoms so you’re prepared for any events, planned or otherwise.

If you’re looking for the safest type of lubricant, your best option is likely a water-based lubricant, like KY Jelly or Astroglide. Water-based lubes are a good choice for both masturbation and intercourse.

Some personal lubricants have additive effects, such as flavors or ingredients that cause tingling or a numbing sensation. Before you use these, make sure you or your partner are not allergic to these additives. The best way to do that is to rub a bit of the fluid onto the inside of your elbow. Wait a few hours. If you don’t see any signs of irritation or sensitivity, you should be good to go when things heat up between the sheets.

The bottom line

Vaseline can be used as a lube. However, it’s not always a good option for personal lubrication during intercourse. While it may reduce friction during sex, it can also introduce bacteria that can lead to an infection. It’s also difficult to clean and can cause staining.

Avoid using Vaseline as lube during sex if you can. While it’s great for chapped lips or skin, it’s not great for vaginas or anuses. Instead, look for options that are designed for sexual intercourse, and make sure it’s safe to use with condoms.