It's not just a health matter (anal sex without lube can be a risky business for all concerned) – it's a pleasure thing. A well-chosen lubricant can dramatically enhance your sexual experience and make you forever wonder why didn't you use it before.

Sex without lube is like driving without tyres. It's just about possible, but you won't find it terribly comfortable, you might damage some key equipment and you won't get anywhere very fast.

Even if you're the type of woman whose natural lube needs very little persuasion – in which case, we salute you – an extra lubricant can add a whole new dimension to sex, helping your skin pick up sensations and allowing you and your partner to indulge in precisely the kind of main course you want without having to spend too long on the starter.

Lubricants and oils aren't just for partner sex. Slicking up solo sex is one of the most common uses for lubricants, oils and lotions. Using lube during masturbation is safe, sensual and practical: you want your sex toys to slip and slide as much as possible. Just remember to make sure you're using a type of lube that's compatible with the toy you're using - you don't want to damage yourself or your toys!

While an abundance of lubes are available in different colors, textures and flavors, lubricants come in four basic forms, and are intended for internal and external application to the vulva (vagina, clitoris, labia), anus, penis and testicles, as well as all over body massage.

Petroleum-Based Lubricant

Made from petroleum jelly, mineral oil or petrolatum, petroleum-based lubes are the most commonly used type of lubrication. Different types include Vaseline products and baby oil. As petroleum-based lubes destroy latex - practically on contact - they should never be used with condoms, diaphragms or cervical caps. Petroleum-based lubes stain fabric and can be difficult to wash out. Also, petroleum-based lubes tend to irritate the vagina, so they're not really the best option for women wanting to enjoy vaginal penetration. Petroleum-based lubes are great, however, for male masturbation and anal play.

Water-Based Lubricant

Water-based lubricants typically contain de-ionized water, glycerin, propylene glycol and nontoxic preservatives. Although available in both flavored and unflavored mixtures, most unflavored lubes still taste slightly sweet. Water-based lubes do not stain, are safe for use with latex and all other barrier birth control methods, and rarely cause irritation. While they often dry out during extended sex, water-based lubes are quickly revived with a spritz of water or a dollop of saliva. Because of their versatility and effectiveness, water-based lubes are recommended most often by sex therapists and experienced couples.

Silicone-Based Lubricant

Silicone-based lubricants are similar to water-based lubes with one notable difference: because they are silicone based, they are completely waterproof, making them ideal for underwater use. They also retain their lubricating properties better and longer than water-based lubricants, and are highly concentrated - so a little goes a long way! Silicone will not harm latex as oil-based lubricants will do; however, silicone-based lubricants can harm sex toys made from silicone, so use a different lube when using your more expensive toys.

Oil-Based Lubricant

Usually made from natural products, such as vegetable oils and nut oils, oil-based lubes tend to stain fabrics and can be difficult to wash off, but they are safe for use with the vagina. Oil-based lubes also destroy latex, so, like petroleum-based lubes, they should never be used with condoms, diaphragms or cervical caps. Oil-based lubricants are great for anal sex, vaginal intercourse, and male and female masturbation.

Whether you decide to try petroleum, oil, water or silicone-based lubricants, remember the various restrictions that go along with each. Try a few different kinds with your lover so the two of you can experiment with different flavors, consistencies and textures. If you don't find a lube you like right away, don't panic: there are about a zillion different kinds out there.