Who The Hell Invented Lube?
If you’ve ended up here, chances are, you’re a fan of lube.
Personal lubricant is one of the smartest purchases a sexually active person can make, but who then hell came up with it? Who woke up one day and decided, “you know what, the next time I have sex, I’m going to put something on my bits – something smooth and gooey.”
I mean, someone woke up and decided to squeeze milk out of a cow to see what happens, right? It can be weird to think about, but this is how things get discovered in our world!
Lube is still not being widely discussed in society and many people can get uncomfortable when the subject is brought up. However, if more people knew where lube came from, how long it’s existed, and the different kinds of lube humans have used throughout history, could people feel more comfortable talking about it?
To investigate this theory, and answer my own selfish questions about lube, I’ve decided to channel my inner Doctor Who and travel back in time to find out what genius decided to put goop on their penis (or inside their vagina) and why.
The first recorded use of personal lubricant was all the way back in 600BC. In ancient China, lube was created by boiling red seaweed into a thick, water-based substance called carrageenan. This proved to be extremely good for not only personal lubrication, but also for thickening foods and medicines, so really, this method of creating lube became a mainstay of ancient Chinese society because of its versatility.
Speaking of versatility, as a fan of the Ancient Greeks and their sex positive culture (Ancient Greece fully embraced homosexuality), I was very pleased to discover that they also adopted lube quite early. Whilst Chinese culture had been utilising carrageenan concoctions for about 250 years, the Ancient Greeks decided to use good old olive oil. Ancient Romans were also big fans of using olive oil as lube, as the Roman empire expanded, so did the ritual of using olive oil for sexual lubrication.
In Edo-period Japan (around 1603 – 1868) lube evolved again. Tororo-jiru became the lubricant of choice and was created by grating and mashing together yams into a soup-like substance. This was also around the time that people started using animal intestines as condoms but try not to picture that in your head too much.
In 1872, a man named Robert Chesebrough created a petroleum jelly he called Vaseline. Now, this stuff wasn’t meant to be used for sex but, people gave it a go and it turned out that Vaseline made a great lubricant because its thickness really helped reduce the amount of friction people experienced during sex; please avoid vaseline for lubricant, while it may reduce friction, it can also introduce bacteria that can lead to an infection. While it might be good for chapped lips or skin, it's not great for vaginas or anuses.
Not long after that, the first silicone-based lubricant emerged. In 1904, K-Y Jelly became the lube of choice for many people, but like Vaseline, it wasn’t originally marketed as lube. Initially, K-Y Jelly was sold as a “surgical aid”, but by 1917, so many people were using it as a lubricant that the inventors of K-Y Jelly decided to rebrand and sell their product as a lube instead. Although, you had to have a prescription from your doctor to buy it. So, some people had to make do with Vaseline, olive oil and even spit, if they couldn’t get their hands on a prescription.
The lube of today
In the 1980’s, lube was finally available over the counter. This was really when people started to take lube a bit more seriously and pay attention to what options they had. It even started appearing in US nightclubs for patrons to use when they needed to!
In the 1990’s people started using cream lubricant, which was mostly made in the UK, and fell in love with it because it was less sticky than the water and silicone-based options. It’s less common to find cream lubricants now, simply because a lot of ingredients used to make cream-based lubricants were found to be unsafe. Luckily, water and silicone-based lube improved and so the stickiness people weren’t big fans of, isn’t really a thing.
Now, the 3 most common lubricants available are oil, water and silicone based. Each type has its own pros and cons, but it’s always best to learn a bit more about the ingredients used in lube so you’re more aware about what brands might do more harm than good.
K-Y Jelly is still on the market, and doctors continue to recommend it to women going through menopause. Vaseline is also still on the market (as is olive oil, obviously), but luckily, very few people still use them as lube these days.
Technology has allowed us to create healthier lubricants for people to use and FIGR Fluid was created with natural ingredients to closely mimic natural lubrication, so you know it’s incredibly safe to use.
Lube’s been around for centuries, which makes you wonder why people still feel so uncomfortable discussing it. If the Ancient Greeks thought it was a pretty good idea, why do so many people ignore it now?
Luckily, there are many lube users out there (like yourself, hopefully!) who are working to normalise personal lubricant, not only so people feel more comfortable talking about it, but so they also feel better about purchasing it - because everyone deserves to have comfortable sex!
Next time someone feels uncomfortable talking about lube with you, let them know how they used seaweed in Ancient China. Maybe talking about the history of lube, and letting them know that someone really did wake up one day and decided to slather boiled seaweed on themselves to make sex feel better, will make the lube conversation feel less daunting and hopefully, help break the stigma surrounding it.
Written by Lauren Payne