STD Awareness: Can I Use Plastic Wrap as a Dental Dam During Oral Sex?

plastic wrapIf you read this blog — or any sexual health website, really — you’ll probably see dental dams getting a lot of props. A dental dam (not to be confused with a female condom) is a square piece of latex that can cover the vaginal opening or the anus. Anyone wishing to avoid the oral transmission of STDs like herpes, gonorrhea, HPV, syphilis, chlamydia, and intestinal parasites, dental-dam advocates say, should use a latex barrier. Most people, however, have probably never even seen a dental dam, and they are not widely used. Perhaps their unpopularity is related to myths about oral sex being safe sex (it’s not!); perhaps it’s due to dental dams being expensive or difficult to find.


Plastic wrap hasn’t been evaluated by the FDA for STD prevention, and no studies have assessed its effectiveness in reducing disease risk during oral sex.


Some safer-sex aficionados have found ways around that, though. They might cut the tips off of condoms and make incisions along the sides, creating little latex rectangles. An even easier and cheaper option lies in plastic wrap, which many people use as a barrier while performing cunnilingus (oral contact with the female genitalia) or rimming (oral contact with the anus). It is inexpensive, easy to find, odorless, and tasteless, and can be purchased without even a hint of embarrassment (unless perhaps your other purchases include duct tape, cucumbers, and clothes pins). And it can be pulled off the roll in sheets as long as your heart desires!

Planned Parenthood endorses the use of plastic wrap for oral sex when dental dams aren’t available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and AIDS.gov both recommend plastic wrap for use during rimming. Health authorities, such as AIDS.gov and the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, recommend non-microwavable Saran Wrap, because microwave-safe Saran Wrap has tiny pores to let out steam — which might also let viruses and bacteria through. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Ceftriaxone-Resistant Gonorrhea

syringeNestled in the throat of a Japanese woman was a collection of clones that scientists abducted from their temporary habitat and christened H041 — a humdrum moniker for a strain of bacteria that would burn headlines in medical journals. Though the bacteria never caused symptoms in their host, they lingered in her throat from at least January until April of 2009, when a swab finally tested negative. Rather than succumbing to repeated bombardment by an antibiotic called ceftriaxone, the infection probably just went away on its own — as oral gonorrhea infections tend to do.


Resistance to ceftriaxone, our last good gonorrhea drug, has been reported in Japan, Australia, Sweden, France, and Spain.


The emergence of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is considered one of the most pressing problems in infectious disease — just two years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named it an “urgent threat.” We have one remaining first-line gonorrhea treatment left: extended-spectrum cephalosporins, which include cefixime, which is taken orally, and ceftriaxone, which is administered as a shot. Resistance to cefixime was first documented in 1999, leaving ceftriaxone as our best remaining option, and the CDC’s first choice for treating gonorrhea. There are no good alternatives to ceftriaxone remaining, which is why reports of ceftriaxone-resistant gonorrhea are so deeply troubling.

What made H041 special was that it was the first extensively drug-resistant strain of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that cause gonorrhea. With an unusually high level of resistance to ceftriaxone — four to eight times higher than the previous record holder — the strain was also resistant to a slew of other antibiotics: penicillin and its relatives, fluoroquinolones, macrolides, tetracycline, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, chloramphenicol, nitrofurantoin, cefpodoxime, cefixime, ciprofloxacin, and levofloxacin — and had reduced susceptibility to azithromycin to boot.

Another thing that made H041 special — as special as clones can be, anyway — is that it never reappeared. After its discovery, researchers in Kyoto and Osaka intensified their surveillance, trying to uncover it again and track its spread through the population. However, their search for H041 turned up empty handed. But other ceftriaxone-resistant strains have been documented around the world. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Is Bacterial Vaginosis a Sexually Transmitted Disease?

Not to scale: Gardnerella vaginalis under a microscope. Image: K.K. Jefferson/Virginia Commonwealth University

Gardnerella vaginalis under a microscope. Image: K.K. Jefferson/Virginia Commonwealth University

Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is the most common vaginal infection among people 15 to 44 years of age. It’s caused by an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, such as Gardnerella vaginalis. A healthy vagina hosts thriving populations of Lactobacillus bacteria species, but when these “good” bacteria are crowded out by certain types of “bad” bacteria, the vaginal ecosystem can be shifted, causing BV.

There is a lot of confusion about BV. Is it a sexually transmitted disease (STD)? What are the symptoms? How can you avoid it?

All good questions. Let’s examine them one by one.

Is BV an STD?

The consensus seems to be that BV isn’t officially an STD, but even reliable sources have somewhat contradictory information. Planned Parenthood doesn’t list BV as an STD on their informational webpages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does include BV on their STD website, but also says that “BV is not considered an STD.”

On the other hand, the Office on Women’s Health says that “BV can … be caused by vaginal, oral, or anal sex” and that “you can get BV from male or female partners.” And there’s an entire chapter devoted to BV in the premier medical textbook on STDs, and its authors say that, while sexually inexperienced females can get BV, “the weight of evidence supports sexual transmission” of G. vaginalis, the bacteria species most famously implicated in BV infections.

The same webpage on which the CDC declared BV not to be an STD also says that it can be transferred between female sexual partners. Indeed, women who have sex with women have higher rates of BV. Since vaginal fluid could spread BV, partners can change condoms when a sex toy is passed from one to another, and use barriers like dental dams when engaging in cunnilingus (oral contact with the female genitalia) or rimming (oral contact with the anus).

What about heterosexual transmission? Continue reading

STD Awareness: Genetics and the Gonococcus

Illustration: CDC

Illustration: CDC

Ever since the discovery of effective antibacterial therapies less than a century ago, humans have been able to easily cure gonorrhea, the sexually transmitted scourge that laid waste to fallopian tubes and robbed newborns of vision. Most of us in the developed world have forgotten that this disease was once a leading cause of infertility in women and blindness in babies — and still is in much of the developing world.

Unfortunately, gonococci — the species of bacteria that cause gonorrhea — have been evolving resistance to every antibiotic we’ve thrown at them, including sulfonamides, penicillins, tetracyclines, macrolides, fluoroquinolones, and narrow-spectrum cephalosporins. We have one remaining first-line gonorrhea treatment left: extended-spectrum cephalosporins, which include cefixime, which is taken orally, and ceftriaxone, which is administered as a shot — and resistance is emerging to those drugs, as well.


Gonococci don’t swap potato salad recipes at family reunions — they swap genetic material!


The emergence of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is considered one of the most pressing problems in infectious disease — just two years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named it an “urgent threat,” and indeed, gonorrhea seems to be evolving resistance to drugs at quite a rapid clip. Gonococci can acquire resistance to antibiotics in three ways.

First, a genetic mutation can endow bacteria with special antibiotic-fighting powers, making it harder for a drug like penicillin to attach to their cells and destroy them. Such a mutant is more likely to gain evolutionary traction if it finds itself in an antibiotic-drenched environment in which resistance to that drug allows it to “outcompete” other bacteria. Indeed, antibiotic resistance was first documented in the 1940s, just years after sulfonamides and penicillin were introduced as the first effective cures for gonorrhea. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Using Condom Sense — Safe and Sexy!

Photo: somethingstartedcrazy via Flickr

Photo: Flickr/ somethingstartedcrazy

Condoms. You know you should use them to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, but somehow the thought of possibly reducing pleasure for that protection may stop a lot of people from using condoms as often as they should.

Originally made from animal skins or intestines, condoms have been used for centuries. Not much about them has changed for hundreds of years. The old one-size-rubber-fits-all mentality, however, is a thing of the past. The sheer variety of new condoms on the market can take your sexual enjoyment to a new level, while still keeping you protected.


Condoms can be flavored, colored, or textured. They can glow in the dark or vibrate, or be vegan or custom fitted. Above all, they protect against STDs and pregnancies.


Condoms now come in an assortment of styles, sizes, flavors, colors, and textures. They can be lubricated or non-lubricated and even made to custom fit. Whatever your pleasure, there is probably a condom for you and your partner that will protect your health and enhance your experience. What to choose? Let’s look at some of the options available today.

Most condoms are made of latex. These are probably the least expensive and they also protect really well against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. For those with an allergy to latex, there are polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms.  Continue reading

Party Prepared This New Year’s Eve

The following guest post was written by Catherine Crook, who is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and interning at Planned Parenthood Arizona in the communications and marketing department.

Party PreparedNew Year’s Eve is one of the most anticipated, libidinous party nights. In celebration of relinquishing the past and vows to new beginnings, people all over the world clink glasses and exchange affection when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.

In the United States, about half of all pregnancies are unintended, and each year there are 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). By age 24 close to 50 percent of sexually active young people will get an STD. Adding alcohol to the mix doesn’t make things any better; individuals are seven times more likely to have unprotected sex when they are under the influence of alcohol.

As the largest provider of sexual health care in Arizona, we want to help you make healthy choices this New Year’s Eve by reminding you to Party Prepared — whether that means carrying a condom or designating a driver.

This New Year’s Eve, Planned Parenthood is distributing 15,000 free condoms to local bars, restaurants, and clubs throughout Arizona. So, if you are going out this New Year’s Eve, stop by one of our campaign partners. You can find the full list here.

Condoms are not the only way to Party Prepared. Another way to make sure you are off to the best start in the New Year is to have emergency contraception on hand. Condoms can break, and sometimes, even with the best of intentions, they can be forgotten.

One party can change your life forever, so let’s make New Year’s Eve a night you never want to forget! Start 2015 healthy, safe, and ready for new beginnings.

We wish you a safe, happy holiday season!

P.S. If you need a primer on how to put a condom on correctly, we have you covered. Check out this video.

Let’s Talk Contraception: Top 6 Condom Myths

condoms varietyCondoms sometimes get a bad rap. Myths about them abound all over the Internet and in discussions among friends. Some criticisms about condoms suggest they’re less than perfect for pregnancy prevention. Or they don’t work well for preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Or they decrease sexual pleasure. The younger generation tends to think of AIDS as chronic and manageable, not as a deadly disease that is best prevented with condoms. So some may wonder, “Why bother using them?”


Let’s debunk some of the most common myths about condoms!


Most of these urban myths are untrue, yet they endure — probably because those spreading the rumors lack factual information about sexual health and contraception. Many American schools teach only abstinence and rarely discuss contraception except to disparage the effectiveness of the low-tech and common condom. But condoms do provide the best protection against the spread of many STDs, including HIV. And they also are really good at preventing pregnancy, especially if used properly and with another form of contraception, such as birth control pills. To top it off, they are the most easily accessible type of non-prescription contraception.

Here are a few tall tales we can debunk.

1. Condoms aren’t that effective in preventing STDs such as HIV.

Scientific studies have consistently shown latex condoms to greatly reduce the risk of contracting chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and HIV. According to the CDC, the consistent and correct use of latex condoms is “highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV,” and many studies have shown that latex condoms reduce HIV transmission for both vaginal and anal sex. Continue reading