Safe sex measures almost always focus only on avoiding unwanted pregnancies and what has a dental dam got to do with it? Safe sex measures are rarely advertised or talked about in terms of the protection they offer against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Next to using contraception, the main focus of people engaging in sexual activity, whether oral or penetrative, is sexual arousal or stimulation and pleasure. To receive this pleasure and perhaps also to ensure that their partner is not denied the pleasure that he/she is seeking, especially in the course of oral sex, sexually active women often choose to ignore the risk of exchanging an STI with their partner for the sake of their own and their partner’s sexual pleasure. This seems to explain why most women do not know about dental dams and out of those who know about them, most do not use it even though it is an effective barrier against STIs and is designed to boost women’s sexual health. We need to start taking women’s sexual health much more seriously so that when it comes to choosing between pleasure and reduced risk of exchanging STIs during oral sex, women are encouraged to choose the second by learning to give their sexual well-being the importance it deserves.
The dental dam was originally invented in the year 1864 by Sanford Christie Barnum for use in dentistry as “a protective sheet with a hole that a dental professional positions over a tooth during an endodontic procedure”(1). Its purpose is to isolate the tooth that is being treated from the rest of the mouth so as to prevent any infection and any interference with the dental procedure as a result of such infection. It was in 1994 that Glyde Health, an Australian company that manufactures products for sexual health, repurposed it as a form of protection for safe oral sex and began selling it for the first time (2).
A dental dam is a thin and flexible square-shaped piece of latex or polyurethane plastic that acts as a barrier against the transmission of bodily fluids during oral sex. By blocking the fluids that might be exchanged between persons involved in mouth-to-genital or mouth-to-anus sexual activity, dental dams reduce the risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Although the latex allows for no direct contact between the mouth and the vagina or anus, it is too thin to prevent clitoral or anal stimulation.
STIs can be transmitted through oral sex in the same way in which they can be transmitted through penetrative sex. Dental dams offer protection against STIs such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis, and HIV but are not effective barriers against the human papillomavirus (HPV), pubic lice, herpes, scabies, and genital warts. Precautionary measures for safe oral sex should not be ignored and must be taken by those engaging in oral sexual activity.
The following steps must be followed to use a dental dam while having oral sex:-
- Tear open the package containing the dental dam gently so as not to tear or damage the dam.
- Taking it out of its protective envelope, unfold it and place it gently over the vagina or anus, without applying too much pressure on it or stretching it.
- After the oral sexual activity is complete, remove the dam from the vagina or anus and throw it in the dustbin.
It is important to take care of the following things while using a dental dam:-
- The dam should be without any tears or holes in the latex and should not be used if it has passed the expiry date.
- The dam should not be stretched as that can damage or tear the latex.
- The dam must stay over the vagina or anus, completely covering it, throughout the course of the performance of oral sex. One of the partners might need to hold it in place over the vagina or anus with one or both hands if it moves from its position during sex.
- Once used, a dental dam must not be reused as this can increase the risk of transmission of STIs.
- A lubricant can be used to keep the dam from slipping from over the vagina or anus. Only water- or silicone-based lubricant should be applied and not an oil-based one as it can damage the dam.
Let’s buy dental dam?
Dental dams are not widely available at pharmacies, especially when compared to the availability of other safe-sex products such as condoms. They can be purchased online and might be available at sexual health clinics and family planning centres. They might also be available at adult stores.
Women should not be embarrassed about using dental dams for safer oral sex, even if the pleasure involved in oral sex is slightly reduced due to their use. Although the feeling of having oral sex with dental dams would be different from that of having it without dental dams, oral sex with dental dams is still highly likely to be a pleasurable experience, with the perks of no exposure to the viruses and bacteria that might cause STIs in women after the performance of oral sex. Women need to make their sexual health a greater priority than the pleasure and comfort of their male or female sexual partners. Dental dams might be a little uncomfortable when first used, especially for the person who is performing oral sex since they are made out of latex and act as a barrier between the mouth and the vagina or anus which might make the sensory experience awkward and artificial but this should be an acceptable trade-off for the purpose of enhancing women’s sexual health.
1^ Green, Jenny. “Why Your Dentist Might Use A Rubber Dam.” colgate.com
2^Duhaime-Ross, Arielle. “Oral history: the sexual misadventures of the dental dam.” theverge.com, March 20, 2014, https://www.theverge.com/2014/3/20/5522106/the-sexual-history-of-the-dental-dam
About the Author: Navya Dawar
She is a second-year student pursuing BBA LLB Honours at Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat, Haryana. She aspires to, one day, be a part of something that helps people believe in themselves and cherish themselves for who they are while simultaneously becoming aware of their own potential for personal growth and exploiting this potential to become better versions of themselves. She loves drinking tea, playing tennis and is fond of working out. She likes to sing and read and aspires to go on long-distance solo hikes at some point in the future.
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