Working as a sex therapist at the Methodist Physicians Clinic Women's Center Pelvic Pain and Sexual Medicine Clinic allows me to educate hundreds of women and men about lubrication.
This is a very misunderstood area of sexuality. There are many things that can contribute to a lack of lubrication during sex such as low estrogen, anxiety or fears that sex will be painful, alcohol and nicotine use and not enough foreplay before intercourse. Some over-the-counter medications such as Benadryl, which can dry out mucus membranes, also cause a lack of lubrication.
So what should you do?
I encourage couples to make lubrication application part of sexual play. It can be made into a game during foreplay or applied before sexual play starts. There is no right or wrong way to use lubricant.
It's really a personal preference on which lubrication to use. You can walk into any drug store and stare at 40 different kinds of lubricants and have no idea how they differ. Here is the breakdown I tell the couples and individuals I work with:
Water-based lubricants (with or without glycerin)
This is the most commonly sold lubricant. It does dry out, but can quickly be rejuvenated with a few drops of water or saliva. It works well with latex condoms, unlike some lubricants that can break down latex. When choosing to use water-based lube, there's a difference between those with and without glycerin.
Non-glycerin water-based lubricants are a great choice for women with recurrent yeast infections or extremely sensitive genitals. These lubricants last longer than glycerin-based products and offer a gentle cushion during intimacy. They can reduce irritation to the genitals, are safe to use with condoms and don't stain fabric. (Brand example: Slippery Stuff)
Water-based with glycerin lubricants have a slightly sweet taste and are very slick. Some of these lubricants feature a warming sensation during intercourse. Negative effects of these types of lubricants include short-term effects and that they can sometimes cause a sticky texture. They are not recommended for women prone to yeast infections or who are diabetic as they have properties similar to glucose. (Brand example: KY-Jelly or KY-Liquid)
Water-soluble lubricants contain oil and shouldn't be used with condoms.
Silicone is the longest lasting of all the lubricants. It is hypoallergenic and safe to use with condoms. Advantages of using silicone-based lubricants include their effectiveness for women with sensitive genitals, they can be used in water and they're great for sensual body massage.
Caution should be taken as the long-lasting slippery texture can be dangerous for falling in tubs and showers. Although these lubricants are odorless and tasteless, they are not recommended for oral sex. Silicone lubricants are also more expensive than water-based types and require more cleanup. They are not recommended for use with certain silicone sex toys.
Natural oil-based lubricants (NOT mineral oil)
These types of lubricants, such as vegetable/corn/avocado/peanut/olive oils, have some benefits during intimacy. They are great for vulvar massage because they are safe for the vagina and safe to ingest.
Disadvantages include they may stain fabric and could destroy latex condoms and sex toys.
Examples of petroleum lubricants include mineral oil and Vaseline. Unfortunately, these products may irritate women's vulvas, stain fabric and destroy latex condoms and should not be used in the vagina.
Fertility promotion lubricants
Since lubricants often impair sperm's fertilization capabilities, couples desiring to become pregnant may need lubrication that will help fertilization rather than prevent.
Pre-seed lubricant is recommended as an intimate moisture product to correct vaginal dryness without harming sperm. A single use applicator coats the vagina, promotes pH balance to semen for optical sperm environment, and contains arabinogalactan, a bioactive plant polysaccharide to provide antioxidant support.
As you can see there are many options and many reasons to read the labels of different lubricants to see what will work best for you. Many companies will send you free samples if you call their customer service or write them an e-mail. That way, you can try before you buy!
Just know it is perfectly normal to use lubrication during sexual play, especially if it allows the process to be more comfortable for you and your partner.