Condoms seem to get all the credit when it comes to barrier methods for sex. This leaves other sexual health tools like dental dams left in the dust.
Even as a sex educator, my dental dam knowledge is limited. So when a queer friend of mine inquired about using them, it sparked my curiosity, and I knew this was something other people would be curious about.
Well here’s your moment dental dams, let’s see what you’re all about!
What Exactly is a Dental Dam?
No, it’s not an instrument your dentist uses to fix your teeth, although they may use them to protect themselves during dental procedures. That’s not the only thing it protects.
A dental dam is a protective barrier method used for oral sex. They are typically made from polyurethane or latex.
They’re essentially a sheet that lays over the opening of the vagina or anus during oral sex, between the giver and receiver.
What are The Benefits of Dental Dams?
The biggest benefit of dental dams is that they protect against the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Primarily used for oral sex, they help protect against many STIs like herpes, HPV, HIV, syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and hepatitis, as well as pubic lice.
Many people think of penetrative sex as the main way of spreading STIs, but they can also be spread through oral sex.
Not only do they help protect against STIs, but are also used for matter that is spread through oral-anal sex, aka rim jobs. When stimulating someone’s anus with your mouth, you can come in contact with fecal matter that may contain bacteria like E. coli or Shigella, as well as intestinal parasites. Dental dams help protect against this.
Because of their use in oral sex, dental dams are somewhat more popular in queer communities. That being said, anyone can benefit from this protective measure, no matter who they’re having sex with.
Much like a condom, you can use dental dams with lube. It’s encouraged to help prevent breakage. Just be sure it’s water or silicone-based so that it doesn’t break down the material of the dental dam like oil-based products can. Read more about choosing the right lube for you.
Do Dental Dams Have any Downsides?
If you have a latex allergy, be careful of using just any dental dam. There are quite a few latex-free and allergy-friendly dental dams on the market. You may just have to plan ahead by ordering online or making your own with an allergy-friendly condom. More on that at the bottom of this article!
Dental dams should not be used as contraception, as they’re intended for oral sex, not to prevent pregnancy.
To fully protect against STIs, you’ll want to be sure you’re using a new dental dam each time you’re having oral sex, putting it before you start, and leaving it on until you finish. Be careful not to stretch the dental dam, as that could cause it to tear.
Just like with a condom, you want to be careful that there are no tears or defects, and that you’ve checked the expiration date. The shelf life of a dental dam is typically five years. To prevent them from breaking down faster, be sure to store them in a cool, dry place.
When using a dental dam, be sure not to turn it over once it’s touched the person’s anus or vagina, as they can expose you to the fluids you’re trying to protect yourself from. You or your partner may need to hold the dental dam in place if it starts moving while you’re having sex.
Another downside of dental dams comes down to preference. Some people prefer dental dams that are completely clear so that they can fully see what they’re doing. Similar to condoms, people may be particular about the taste of the dental dam. Many companies make different flavored ones, and you can always try a flavored lube to go with it.
DIY Dental Dams
While it may seem a little precarious to make a sexual barrier method yourself, you can do so with dental dams. You may have heard of people using rubber gloves or saran wrap to make their own dental dams, but if you’re going this route, opt for condoms that are already especially engineered to protect against STIs.
Are you feeling crafty?
You can see an exact tutorial with visuals on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, but all you’ll need is a condom, a pair of scissors, and some steady hands.
- Carefully open the condom from its package and unroll it.
- Cut the tip off the condom, just below the pointed end.
- Cut the bottom off the condom above the rolled part.
- Cut the tube open down one side.
- Lay flat over anus or vaginal opening.
Voila! You now have a homemade dental dam. What you do next is up to you!
You can also get dental dams at some grocery stores, pharmacies, adult stores, and online.
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.