Online research produces an array of theories about the first known lubricants, who invented them and what they were made from. There is some evidence that people in Ancient Greece used olive oil as a sexual lubricant (among its many other uses). And after the Chinese started making and using animal intestine condoms they were also known to mash up yams to use as a lubricant. At the end of the 1800s, silicone was invented, creating the pathway for lubricant companies to make history for consumers. Since then, sexual and medical lubricants have always enjoyed a higher status than sex toys when it comes to retail shelf space. Big box retail stores often have a selection of lubricants on their shelves within their sexual planning section. And manufacturers offer many reasons for lube’s elevated status.
“Lube doesn’t carry the stigma that toys do,” says Sliquid’s Colin Roy. “Many people who would be embarrassed to buy a toy don’t feel the same way about lubricants. Additionally, lube can sit on the shelf in a retail or drugstore environment and fit in without retailers having to risk offending a customer.”
Lube doesn’t carry the stigma that toys do. Many people who would be embarrassed to buy a toy don’t feel the same way about lubricants. -Colin Roy, Sliquid
“People buy lubricants much more often than sex toys,” says Pjur’s Michael Bart. “Sex toys will work many years whereas a bottle of lube will be empty after a few months, days or weeks. Drugstores normally only list products that are fast-moving and personal lubricants are an everyday multi-use product. They are used by many people for many different reasons — to enhance sexual pleasure, or for massage. Other consumers look for a lubricant because they have problems with dryness and others who love anal sex and need some moisture in this area and pjur offers lubes for all fields of application. That is the reason why lubricants are sold in many different places like sex shops, drug stores, pharmacies.”
Other manufacturers cite cultural reasons for lubricants’ coveted retail spots.
“We only recently have seen lubes and condoms come out from behind the pharmacist’s counter and locked cabinets to be readily accessible in the family planning aisles,” says Mark Olson, vice president of worldwide sales and market for Empowered Products. “Female shoppers have become the primary buyers and have become empowered as owners of their sexual experiences. Toys are still perceived as pleasure devices and soccer moms aren’t quite ready to have that moment facing their daughter’s friend working the checkout counter at their neighborhood pharmacy. An equally important second reason is the revenue produced by that slot on the shelf. Retailers carefully monitor the unit turn and revenue potential of every inch of shelf space.”
And when it comes to best-selling and popular formulas the most recent trend is ingredients. According to manufacturers, customers are paying closer attention to what is in their products and also where lubricants are made. While other manufacturers say that some of their best-selling formulas continue to be ones that are tried and true.
“Consumers today have more information at their fingertips so they read labels and research ingredients and experiences of other users,” says Olson. “They know to be wary of ingredients they don’t want in their bodies like glycerins and parabens. They also know to look for products made in the U.S. instead of China, Malaysia, or the Philippines.”
Paradise Marketing owner and CEO Dennis Paradise, whose company promotes and markets Astroglide, states when it comes to variations in formula, customers are sometimes looking for the less obvious.
“Recently, we added a new product, our Astroglide O which features coconut, argan, sweet almond, sunflower and jojoba oils. Everyone who tries it says, ‘oh my God’ but Astroglide has had the same formula for the last 25 years,” says Paradise. “It has been used by countless consumers. Customers aren’t just looking for something that feels good. They also want something that they can trust and has integrity. Customers can be suspicious of new products. That product has to have a track record where they feel comfortable about putting that product inside of them.”
Roy echoes that sentiment. “Our best-selling formula is and always has been our original H2O,” states Roy. “The simplicity of the formula and the natural ingredients make it the go to product for many health-conscious consumers.”
“For our company its pjur Original,” says Bart. “With its unique and long-lasting formula, it creates a silky-smooth feeling on the skin. You can have fun for hours with this product and be sure that it is good for your skin. That’s what makes it outstanding. After pjur Original, there’s pjur Woman — a unique formula made for the sensitive skin of women. This is our most sold product in the women’s target group.
“Product safety are the key words nowadays,” Bart said. “Modern consumers put a premium on gentle, non-irritating and sustainable quality products, preferably ‘Made in Germany.’ Of course, people are always interested in new things like special enhancing or stimulating effects, but the most important thing is that products are dermatologically confirmed and registered by the national health authorities. Without that, modern consumers won’t buy your product. They don’t buy cheap products to save money because they know quality is worth it.”
When it comes to marketing and branding and packaging, many companies believe simpler is best, but the key to success and selling your product well does depend on who you are marketing to and being able to get your message across to consumers.
“We built our reputation in the gay community with Gun Oil Silicone, launching it and our company in the middle of West Hollywood,” says Olson. “Our unique military-themed packaging and exceptionally high-grade formula achieved immediate popularity and from there we have built a very loyal following. Pink Water has been a hit in mass market pharmacy and grocery stores as well as adult channels for its female-oriented branding and formula carefully and scientifically-engineered for women. If I had to predict the future, I think our Pink Natural formula will ultimately surpass our Pink Water. There is a growing demand for natural products, especially for areas as important as vaginas, and we have developed the most natural formula on the market today.”
Trigg Labs, which manufactures Wet lubricants, believes that safety and variety are still very important to consumers.
“Our WoW Max O is a clitoral arousal gel that was designed to increase blood flow to the top of the clitoris, intensifying arousal and providing more intense orgasms,” says Brianna McCullough, senior marketing director for Trigg Laboratories, Inc. “As women become more assertive in exploring and supporting their sexual health, we want to keep them engaged and let them know they’re our priority. Our research and development teams have designed products exclusively for women and we’ll continue to support the growth of that segment. Trigg Labs practices cGMP, which is best manufacturing practices, and tests all formulas and ingredients to ensure pure, clean and efficacious products. We work closely with the FDA ensuring regulation compliance for medical device manufacturing.”
“Our packaging was created to look different than the other products a consumer will see on the shelf — our brand is clean, sexy and fun, and you’ll feel those elements in our packaging,” continues McCullough. “The category is extremely crowded and we have fractions of a second to draw the customer’s eye and encourage them to pick up our product — it’s critical to clearly disseminate what’s different and better about our brand of lubricants and we intentionally design our labels to accomplish this goal.”
“Packaging is really important, especially to attract new customers,” says Bart. “There is a simple formula, known as AIDA-Formula (Attention – Interest – Desire – Action), which means that the packaging has to attract the consumer’s attention and create an interest, it has to show the benefit of a product and needs to be authentic. The last — but also very important — point is that it has to shine out so that people buy the product, for example through a key visual. We developed our key visual, the yellow dot, a couple of years ago, so that the customers know: Just look for the yellow dot and you will get high quality products. pjur is also one of the first lubricant companies to fully institute the new UDI (Unique Device Identification) implemented by the FDA. UDI provides tracking to avoid a quality problem should one arise for the fastest corrective action.”
For Empowered Products, marketing takes on a new level when it comes to providing samples for consumers. The company has staff dedicated to handling requests for single-use samples for anywhere consumers congregate.
“Our CEO established a mantra inside our company based on a simple belief: that if we can get someone to try our lube even once, then we have a customer for life,” says Olson. “Further, we believe word of mouth is the most powerful medium in this category, so we place a great emphasis on getting samples of our products into the hands of people everywhere we can — Pride events, safe sex clinics, local affinity group gatherings, gay softball leagues, anywhere you can imagine. We’ve given out more than 6 million single-use samples since our founding.”
And while sexual lubricants continue to enjoy success and more mainstream visibility, there is still a laundry list of misconceptions about lubricants — everything from male partners in heterosexual relationships who feel a partner isn’t attracted to them if they have to use lube or you should only use lube if you are having a problem with sexual intimacy. Manufacturers agree the best way to fight those misconceptions and stigmas is through consumer education.
“A high-quality lubricant provides substantial benefits for one’s love life, health and the everyday wellbeing,” says Bart. “That is also our vision at pjur: to improve the quality of people’s (love) life everywhere in world. We are intent on creating joy, enhancing sensations and reducing physical discomfort with the highest respect for your intimacy at all times. We implement many measures in PR, social media, blogs, advertising etc. with the target to educate (consumers).”
“The truth is, lubricant makes sex much more enjoyable for any sexually active adult,” says McCullough. “It really elevates the sexual experience, regardless of the kind of encounter — whether that’s massage, foreplay, anal sex, oral sex, shower sex. Everyone should be using it, and we should be talking about all the reasons it can build and improve intimate experiences.”