Dental Dams Help Spread Intimacy, Not STDs

It’s that time of the year when people focus on intimacy and romance. Most people think jewelry and roses are good gifts to give for Valentine’s Day. They’re nice, but you know what’s even better? Dental dams.

What’s a dental dam, you ask? Like condoms, dental dams are a way to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) by covering the vagina or anus during oral sex. Dental dams are usually made of latex, and some are made from polyurethane. Since they’re used for oral sex, dental dams often come in different flavors, and they’re flexible enough to fit in your purse.

Dental dams are an essential component of protecting your sexual health.

Dental dams are particularly useful for lesbian partners, since oral sex is a common form of sexual activity, but anyone who engages in cunnilingus (the oral stimulation of female genitals) can use them. Dental dams are also beneficial for consenting partners who enjoy anal play (aka “rimming”). Dental dams serve as a barrier against most STDs, since many sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, human papillomavirus (HPV), and herpes, can be passed simply by skin-to-skin contact. Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and hepatitis A and B viruses can also be spread through oral sex. HIV can be transmitted through oral sex if blood is present.

Unfortunately, dental dams aren’t distributed as widely as condoms are. You’re not likely to find a dental dam dispenser in a public restroom, and many community organizations provide dental dams on a request-only basis because they’re more expensive than condoms. And most drug stores don’t carry dental dams in the same aisle as condoms and lube because dental dams were originally created to be used during dental procedures. (Get it — dental dams.)

One reason for the cost difference is the assumption that dental dams aren’t as important as condoms, which leads to low availability and low demand relative to condoms. Why? Because our culture promotes heterosexuality as the “norm,” and women get stereotyped as sexual objects, rather than sexual partners. Suzannah Weiss breaks this down in an article published by Glamour Magazine:

There are multiple reasons for the disparate visibility between condoms and dental dams. First of all, when we talk about safe sex, we often focus on pregnancy prevention instead of [STD] prevention. In fact, many people are afraid to even bring up [STDs] at all due to the stigma around them … When talk around safety during oral sex does happen, it’s almost always focused on oral sex performed on [cisgender] men. For evidence of this, just look at the wealth of flavored condoms on the market.

Weiss goes on to argue that the price of dental dams is higher because of the lack of demand — and awareness. Is it possible they would be more popular if female pleasure were just as central to our understanding of sexuality as male pleasure? Would they be more popular if they were easier to find and more affordable? Would more people be aware of the option to protect themselves during oral-vaginal contact if they received comprehensive sex education that was inclusive of a wide range of human sexual behavior, and empowered students with the knowledge they need to protect their sexual health?

If you can’t find a dental dam at your nearby drugstore, don’t worry — there’s hope! You can make your own dental dam by cutting a condom (if you wish, you can choose a flavored variety). Here’s a guide from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to make a dental dam yourself. Treat your dental dams the same way you would treat your condoms. Before use, don’t expose them to moisture, heat, or light. Keep them in a drawer or a fun box on your bedside table so you’re ready for sex without having to search for dental dams (or condoms, for that matter) in the heat of the moment.

So rather than stereotypical roses or an expensive night out, celebrate your sexuality with a dental dam, homemade or store-bought. Your body will thank you.