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

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Originally made from animal skins or intestines, condoms have been used for centuries.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

Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 21: Contraception

World Contraception DayWelcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl never knew about.

Birth control is about so much more than just one type of pill. First of all, there are dozens of varieties of the Pill, and beyond that even more types of contraception! With so many options available, you’re bound to find the birth control option that’s right for you, and Planned Parenthood can help you find it.

Birth Control Pills: The Pill is probably the first thing people think of when they think of birth control, and it’s no wonder: Since its introduction in 1960, it has become an iconic symbol of women’s liberation. Taken at the same time every day, the Pill is an incredibly effective form of birth control that works by suppressing ovulation. And there are many different types, from those that are specially designed to reduce the number of periods you have in a year, to progestin-only mini-pills, from name brand pills to generic pills, and more!

Vaginal Ring: Not everyone likes taking a daily pill; some people are naturally forgetful, while others have hectic schedules that don’t make it easy to dedicate a time of the day to pill-taking. That’s where contraceptives like NuvaRing come in: This flexible ring is inserted into the vagina, where it releases a low dose of daily hormones. Leave it in for three weeks, remove it for a week, and then start the cycle anew with a new ring!

Birth Control Patch: Ring not your thing? Maybe a patch is where it’s at. It works a lot like the ring, only instead of inserting it into your vagina, you pop the patch out of its wrapper and stick it to your skin, where it stays in place for a full week, releasing hormones all the while. Continue reading

6 Myths About HPV

This is what HPV might look like if you were shrunk down to the size of a virus. Image: University of Arizona

When I was a high school student in the 1990s, human papillomavirus (HPV) didn’t get a lot of screen time in our sex education classes. They slapped a few scary pictures of genital warts on the overhead projector and called it a day, neither mentioning that other strains of HPV could cause cancer, nor elucidating the connection between the virus and Pap testing.

Since the introduction of the HPV vaccine, awareness of the virus has skyrocketed — but with that increased awareness has come a flurry of myths and misinformation.

1 Myth: Condoms are useless in protecting against HPV.
Fact: The consistent use of condoms decreases the risk for HPV transmission.

Many people claim that condoms are worthless protection against HPV, reasoning that because the virus lurks in skin cells and condoms don’t cover the entire genital region, HPV transmission can still result from skin-to-skin contact. There is a kernel of truth here, but it is an exaggeration that condoms are useless. Although latex condoms don’t necessarily cover the entire affected area, using them consistently and correctly lowers the risk of contracting HPV. While latex condoms are even more effective in protecting against fluid-borne sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV and chlamydia, they can still reduce the spread of HPV.

One study found that over an eight-month period, females whose male partners used condoms each and every time were 70 percent less likely to acquire HPV than were females whose partners used condoms only 5 percent of the time. This is hardly a case against condoms!

Other studies have shown that condom use can promote the regression of both cervical-cell abnormalities and penile lesions, as well as increase the speed at which HPV is cleared by the immune system. Put in plainer English, even if you’re already infected with a cancer-causing strain of HPV, using condoms can decrease your chances of developing cervical or penile cancer.

2 Myth: If you abstain from sex until marriage, you don’t have to worry about STDs, including HPV.
Fact: Even if you only have had one sexual partner, you can still acquire an STD. Continue reading

How Does HIV Cause AIDS?

diagram of a human immunodeficiency virus

Last week, we gave a general background of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS by destroying the immune system. But how is HIV able to disable our immune systems so effectively, anyway? The answer lies in its structure.

HIV, just like any other virus, is made up of a tiny capsule with a small piece of genetic code inside. While most viruses we’re familiar with store their genes on a molecule called DNA, HIV contains two pieces of RNA, which is another type of gene-storing molecule. The HIV capsules also contain an enzyme called transcriptase, which “translates” the RNA into a strand of DNA that our cells can read. Our cells are then tricked into reading this DNA and producing more copies of the virus — which are then released from the host cell, at which point they are free to infect other cells. In this manner, an HIV infection slowly grows.


HIV targets our immune systems, the very mechanism that evolved to keep us safe from pathogens.


When a virus is introduced into a host’s body, immune cells pick it up and carry it to the lymphoid organs — which are a sort of meeting place for other types of immune cells, including CD4+ T helper cells (also called helper T cells). Helper T cells enlist the help of other immune cells, called killer T cells, which destroy cells infected with viruses. Helper T cells also activate the production of antibodies, molecules that are specialized to attach to a specific pathogen so that it can be destroyed. Normally, this is where the virus meets its end. Unfortunately, HIV is different from run-of-the-mill viruses in that it is specialized to invade helper T cells. Now, instead of coordinating an attack against HIV, the helper T cells have been hijacked — converted into factories for the production of yet more HIV. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Female Condoms, Another Contraceptive Choice

Are you or your partner allergic to latex? Does your male partner not like to use condoms, or does he want to try something that may feel less restrictive? Would you like to decrease the risk of skin-to-skin transmission of viruses, such as those that cause genital warts or herpes? Do you feel that putting on condoms distracts from the spontaneity of sex? You might be interested in learning about female condoms.


September 12 is Global Female Condom Day.


The female condom, available as the brand name FC2, is a barrier contraceptive that was developed with the dual purpose of allowing women contraceptive control and providing  protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

You do not need a prescription or to see a health care provider to get the FC2 — it’s available for sale just like male condoms.

As with other contraceptive methods, it is not foolproof, but when used properly and consistently it is 79 to 95 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Also, its shape and design allows less skin-to-skin contact where diseases may spread.

The first female condoms were made of polyurethane. The new FC2 is now made of a thin, flexible nitrile sheath with an open ring at one end that covers the outside of the genital area and a smaller closed ring on the end that is inserted in the vagina. Inside the sheath is a silicone lubricant. Because the condom is not latex, it can also be used with any kind of additional lubricant and by those allergic to latex. Continue reading

STDs 101: An Introduction to Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Coupons for STD-screening discounts in April 2014 are available here.

It’s April, which for Arizonans means a gradual increase in temperature as we head toward summer. But at Planned Parenthood Arizona it also means that it’s time to focus on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in observance of STD Awareness Month. While we regularly provide information about sexual health with our monthly STD Awareness series, April is the time of year to fix the spotlight on sexually transmissible microbes and the infections they cause. April is also the time of year when Planned Parenthood Arizona offers coupons for discounted STD screening, so if you’ve been putting it off, now’s the time!

Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

First, some basic facts. STDs can be transmitted through all sexual activities — vaginal, anal, or oral sex, as well as activities involving skin-to-skin contact. STDs are most commonly caused by viruses or bacteria, though they can be caused by other agents as well, including animals! Each STD is unique, with unique symptoms, but common symptoms include:

  • rashes, open sores, blisters, or warts in the genital area
  • swelling or tenderness
  • pus, bleeding, odor, or abnormal discharge
  • itching in the genital region
  • burning sensation during urination

It’s best not to focus too closely on symptoms, though — most people with STDs actually don’t experience any symptoms whatsoever! As they say in the biz, “The most common symptom of an STD is … no symptom.” For example, most people with herpes either have no symptoms or have mild symptoms that go unnoticed. Ten percent of males and 80 percent of females with gonorrhea don’t experience symptoms, and most people with chlamydia are asymptomatic. And HIV symptoms usually take a decade to show up. If you are, or have been, sexually active, you can’t assume that the absence of symptoms means you’re in the clear. To know for sure if you have an STD, the best thing you can do is to get yourself tested. Continue reading