After reading this, you may think “Ok, what haven’t people used as lube at some point?!” And you may be right because humans are crafty when it comes to reducing friction, even if that means… mayonnaise? Ok eww, we digress. While modern science has proved that sex with lube is better, humans figured this out long before any studies were done. We take it for granted today, but personal lubricant is more safe, effective, and readily available than ever. Here’s our opinionated timeline of Lube through the Ages.
- 600 BC China begins using carrageenan (a gelatinous substance made from seaweed) in food for its thickening properties and medicine for its thickening properties. After being boiled, it becomes a thick, slippery, and water-soluble liquid lubricant suitable for land-based sex.
- 350 BC The first written mention of lube. Turns out Greeks (and later Romans) used olive oil for sex, in addition to bathing and making killer caesar salads. The innovation seems at least partly motivated by their open enjoyment of male-male anal sex as well as the development of leather dildos.
Fun fact: Aristotle mentions a contraceptive lube cocktail consisting of olive oil mixed with cedar oil, lead (!!!), and frankincense. Pliny, another white beard (from Rome), suggested olive oil with pigeon droppings and wine as a mouth-watering alternative.
- The Dark Ages Not much documented use of lube, but probably mostly blood and tears.
- 1400s Asian upper classes begin using “glans condoms” made from oiled silk paper, lamb intestine, and tortoise shells, lubricated with vegetable oil.
- 1603-1868 Edo period Japan’s first documented use of tororo-jiru, a slick substance made by finely grating Chinese yams. They also used clove oil, which has pain-killing and muscle-relaxing properties and is still used in modern versions of this lube
- 1700s a compendium of Chinese dirty jokes mentions using spit as a personal lubricant, although we’re pretty sure it’s been used a lot longer than that.
- 1872 Robert Chesebrough invents petroleum jelly, better known as Vaseline. By the early 1900s it had become incredibly popular as a lube, especially among the gay community.
- 1904 KY Jelly introduced, initially marketed as a surgical lube and for prostate and gynecological examinations. By 1917 it was being sold specifically as a personal lubricant, but wouldn’t be available without a prescription until 1980.
- 1911 Crisco, the shelf-stable vegetable shortening that makes everything taste better, is introduced and quickly added to the DIY lube cannon. By the 1970s, Crisco was so synonymous with gay culture that clubs and bars incorporated it into their name (like Crisco Disco in NYC) or painted it into murals (like Club Z in Seattle).
- 1970s Counterculture mail-order catalogs begin selling personal lubricant (like Love Oil), albeit with limited options and small quantities.
- 1980s & 1990s Personal lubricants (like KY Jelly) become more widely available in drugstores in America and Europe. Cream lubricant, ideal for anal sex and lacking the tacky feeling of water-based lubes, also comes on the scene.
Modern Day By the early 2000’s the personal lubricant market blossomed into its current state, with a multitude of options. If your sex is boring, you can try lubricants with tingling, warming, desensitizing, flavoring, or cooling effects. Options for every possible allergy or use (condom safe, anal, allergy-free, natural, etc) are also available. There’s also been a resurgence in natural lubricants that sound like they’re from the ancient world: egg whites, coconut oil, and aloe vera are all increasing in popularity.