Sex lube is definitely not something that is new. In fact, people have been using lube to enhance sex for literally hundreds of years. With that being said, as we entered the 20th and 21st century, the advancements of lube have really taken off. There’s a ton of interesting research showing how sex products developed along with various civilizations, and if you’ve ever wondered what ancient people used for personal lubricant, do we have some interesting facts for you.
As one could imagine, vegetable oil would be the most common and popular choice for lube. Vegetable oils have been around for centuries in the advanced societies who were more agriculturally driven. Once they realized that there was a more fun use of their oils, the rest became history. Dating all the way back to 350 B.C. early Romans and Greeks were known to use olive oil for sex, among other things.
In one of his writings, the Greek philosopher Aristotle references the contraceptive powers of olive oil mixed with cedar oil, lead, and frankincense. From Greek texts, we also know that women would also use leather dildos lubricated with olive oil, and it stands to reason that olive oil was probably the go-to lubricant for that time period, although no definitive proof has ever been found.
Sex and masturbation were very common and often a group activity among the Romans, and like the Greek, adding olive oil into the mix for lube was quite common. It is thought to be known that they tried to incorporate contraceptives into their lube formulas. Pliny, the great Roman thinker, suggested a mixture of olive oil, pigeon droppings, and wine. Olive oil kept its popularity through the 16th century, which, incidentally, is around the time when the word “dildo” entered our vocabulary.
The fun was not just happening in the Western world around that time. The East had its fair share of personal lubricant as well. In Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868), couples used tororo-jiru, an ultra-slick substance made by finely grating Chinese yams. Similar to some of the popular non-latex condoms of today, ancient Chinese condoms made from animal intestine or treated linen were often coated with a few drops of vegetable oil to facilitate penetration.
What we have come to know as silicone lubricant was actually discovered in 1899 by Frederick Kipping, a famous English chemist. While working on a completely different theory, Frederick discovered a unique polymer which he then named silicone. Although Frederick did not necessarily intend for his discovery to be used to have sex with, later in the 1900s this became quite the slick and long lasting lubricant.
The similarities between past and present are very apparent. In ancient times people in socially conservative societies were less likely to use lube for sex or masturbation. In the 19th century, gynecologists prescribed pelvic massages to women who couldn’t produce enough of their own natural lubrication. The physician would massage and stimulate the woman’s clitoris until she had an orgasm, at which point she was pronounced cured. These messages were also the go-to treatment for women who suffered from “excessive” lubrication, which is something of a testament to the repressive atmosphere of the time period.
Commercially prepared lubes didn’t become popular until the early 20th century. K-Y Jelly was introduced in 1904 as a surgical product, and it is considered one of the first modern lubricants, as it uses a base consisting of methylcellulose and other ingredients commonly found in newer water-based products. While it was not marketed for sexual use, its manufacturer began offering a non-sterile version for non-surgical use.
The sexual revolution of the 1960s made lubricants and other products more socially acceptable, and manufacturers like K-Y quickly shopped their products to a new audience. The lubricant industry gained steam in the 1990s and 2000s, and the market now features hundreds of specially formulated products designed to please different types of users.
Modern lubricants are much safer than their forebears and much less likely to cause infections or to foster microorganism growth. We’ve certainly made major advances since the days of olive oil and tororo-jiru, and personal lubricants will continue to help people enjoy themselves in safe, new, and exciting ways for centuries to come.