For Portia Brown, a sex coach in Brooklyn, lube is nonnegotiable. “I don’t think I’ve had sex in the last five years without reaching for a lubricant,” she said.
Inside her night stand drawer is an array of personal lubricants: some silicone-based, some oil-based, some infused with CBD. One thing most of them have in common, however, is the chic packaging and bottles they come in, imbuing a sex aid with the allure of a beauty product.
According to Ms. Brown, the elevated design feeds into today’s consumer tastes. “It’s sort of a backdoor way to get people into using lubricants,” she said. “I can sit this on the shelf with all of my skin care products and all my perfume and it looks just as beautiful as everything else that I use and douse my body with.”
What once was hidden away in a Ziploc bag in the corner of your sock drawer is now being sold in design-forward containers meant to live on top of your night stand. Indeed, there is now a “lube aesthetic.”
On a recent visit to a Sephora on West 34th Street in Manhattan, I noticed a small, bottom-shelf display of natural lubricant products. But the bottles looked nothing like the basic plastic squeeze tubes of lube I’ve seen inside pharmacies or next to the condoms behind a gas station counter.
The product, Shine personal lubricant by Maude, the first brand in a category now called “sexual wellness” to be stocked at Sephora, was packaged in an eight-ounce, amber-colored bottle, with a black pump and a minimalist white text design. At a glance, it could easily be mistaken for a bottle of Aesop hand soap or some fancy essential oil.
According to Éva Goicochea, who founded the brand in 2018, it was all led by design and was meant to show consumers that lube is “not a scary thing.”
Ms. Goicochea said her team didn’t consider other design options for the Maude lube bottle. It was a decision based on the resources they had, all while being gender- and age-inclusive to create a product that “felt elevated.”
“When it’s on my night stand, I’m like, OK, it looks like my other products and it doesn’t stand out, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable,” she said. “I know that sounds funny coming from me because I started this company, but I’m a private person.”
Although that Sephora trip was my first time seeing Maude in stores, it wasn’t my first time hearing about it. Months ago, I saw it displayed proudly next to someone’s bed, right next to his bedside lamp. More recently, when conversation at a dinner party turned to lube, a couple of friends said they were fans of the product not just for how it felt, but also for how it looked.
Other brands, including Bloomi, Foria and Dame, have taken a similarly aesthetic approach, presenting their products in such a way that makes you feel as if you’re pampering yourself. Glissant’s flavored lube comes in a mini gold spray bottle, similar to a travel perfume.
This shift in how lube is packaged reflects how people are owning their pleasure and sex lives without guilt or shame.
Although most of the stigma surrounding personal lubricants has faded, there can still be a whiff of embarrassment around using it, even though it’s been shown to make engaging in penetrative sex and using sex toys a more pleasant experience. For some, no amount of chic labeling or fancy bottles will persuade them to display their lube, whether for fear of coming off as promiscuous to potential partners or as someone who engages in a lot of “me time.”
Yet some men still worry that if a woman needs lube, it means she’s not turned on. There are women who worry that if she needs lube, her partner might think something is wrong with her. Even though natural lubrication is not our bodies’ only arousal response, it can sometimes feel like the only one that matters.
“We live in a society where a self-lubricating vulva and vagina is celebrated and one that does not is shamed,” said Ms. Brown, the sex coach and self-described “lube enthusiast.” “If you don’t have a Super Soaker between your legs, that’s actually completely normal and fine and a common experience.”
As a coach who wants people to have more enthusiastic and authentic sexual experiences, Ms. Brown said this shift in the marketing and design of personal lubricants was a game changer.
“At this point, I’m not buying lube that’s not in a cute bottle,” she said.
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