Sex Ed 101: Dental Dams

This first installment of Sex Ed 101 will focus on dental dams! Sex Ed 101 is a series to help provide the sex ed you may have missed.

There are plenty of topics that I could have discussed first, but I have found over time that most people do not even know that dental dams exist!

So let’s start off with this: what exactly is a dental dam? Well, it is what it sounds like, a latex sheet used often in dentistry, but that can also, much like a condom, act as barrier during certain kinds of sexual acts. I, of course, will be discussing the sexual protection version.

The next question: why do you need a dental dam? What sex acts would require one? Well, dental dams can be used for non-penetrative acts, including but not limited to cunnilingus (oral sex performed on a vagina) and analingus (oral sex performed on an anus). Using a dental dam during these acts can lower the chances of transmitting STDs. Also, a dental dam can help minimize the transmission of bacteria between a vagina or anus and the mouth, and help these sex acts be more sanitary. A dental dam could even help someone who finds oral sex to be a bit too messy!

Dental dams often are flavored since they are used for oral sex, but the latex itself is flavored so the flavor is not as strong as when a condom is covered in flavored lube. However, dental dams are usually not lubricated, so they are easier to hold in place. Lube can and often should still be used with the areas of the body that the dental dams are covering, just be careful to not make the dam so slippery that you cannot hold onto it.

If you think that it’s just oral sex and that you do not need protection while performing it, you should know that many STDs are transmittable through oral sex including: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, HPV (human papilloma virus), and trichomoniasis.

When I have asked people of all sexualities if they use dental dams, even queer women, if they even know what dams are, the answer is usually something along the lines of “well, I probably should but…” These are people that I know use condoms regularly to have safe sex, too. Dental dams are just as important, as the CDC recommends that a dental dam is used every time during oral sex.

Dental dams should be used by straight and queer people alike, yet they can only be bought online, which only further discourages people from using them and stigmatizes people who want to engage in oral sex with a vagina. I have seen vibrators, which are purely sex toys and not needed for safe sex, on sale in convenience stores, but I have never seen a single box of dental dams. Some sex toy shops do not even sell dental dams at all, but have all different kinds of male condoms and lube.

I know some colleges and universities do have dental dams available alongside condoms in their health offices, but what are people to do once they are out of college? Dental dams should be just as easy to buy as condoms, at least at larger chain stores.

There thankfully are many tutorials on how to make dental dams from condoms, which are readily available, but these are often going to be a bit more difficult to use.

Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania recommends buying dental dams from Amazon to get quality and affordable options, such as Trust and Sheer GLYDE brands.

For more information:

Mary-Wren Ritchie, Community Educator, Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania


This article originally appeared on QueerPgh.com. This article is preserved as a part of the Q Archives project. Please consider donating to help preserve Pittsburgh’s Queer history.