It doesn't sound like the sexiest thing around, so if, upon encountering the phrase "dental dams," you wondered, "What are dental dams? And what the heck do they have to do with oral sex?" — well, that would be understandable. But today is the day that you learn once and for all what dental dams are, as Cristin Conger of Stuff Mom Never Told You is here to break down the truth about this nifty safer sex tool. Even though it might fall under the heading of basic sex ed, don't you feel bad if you didn't already know what a dental dam is; you're probably not alone. Conger explains that it's "one of the most poorly understood barrier methods," and since so many viewers have requested she make a video on the topic — voila!
First of all, let's deal with the name of the tool itself: Dental dams. As you may have guessed, the original use of dental dams was for... well, dentists. Dentists use dental dam as a way to isolate an area being treated (usually a tooth) while they work on it. Typically, a dentist will place the dental dam over your mouth and use small clips to connect it to the edge of your gums to hold it in place.
As Conger explains, dental dams made the journey from the dental chair to bedrooms everywhere in the early '90s, when a group of queer women from Australia made it their mission to find specific STI protection that wasn't designed for use by those with a penis.
They approached Glyde Health founder Clive Woodward at a sex education conference and asked him to create a special tool that could be used for lesbian sex. “Their concerns were that there was nothing for women, particularly for lesbian woman who wanted to perform sexual acts on each other, other than cut-up condoms, or what you Americans refer to as ‘Saran wrap,’” Woodworth told the Verge in 2014 about their request. The women who approached Woodward were also dissatisfied substituting with dams that dentists used, because they were “too small, too thick, and not very sensual.” Woodword then set out to make his own version of what would become the modern day dental dam.
So, back to the original question: What is a dental dam? The Sutter Health Palo Alto Medical Foundation defines the dental dam of today as "a thin, square piece of rubber which is placed over the labia or anus during oral-vaginal or oral-anal intercourse." Basically, the dental dam acts as a barrier between your mouth and either the anus or labia, which protects both you and your partner from exchanging fluids. They don't need to be pressed against the skin firmly, just loosely held in place. So, there you have it. Pretty simple for all of the confusion around this barrier method, right?
Dental dams are not only good for lesbian sex; they're also a great barrier method to use for anyone participating in sexual activity involving a labia or anus. They provide protection from STIs and STDs like:
Unfortunately, not many people are actually using dental dams; a 2010 study of Australian women found that only a little over nine percent of women who had had oral sex with women had used a dental dam in the last six months. Why could this be? For one, as Conger states, many drug stores don't carry dental dams like they do condoms, so finding them can be a bit of a challenge.
Luckily, you can actually make your own dental dams very easily, with the only tools you need being a condom and scissors. If you want to see how to make a dental dam for yourself, make sure to watch the full video below.
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Stuff Mom Never Told You/YouTube (3)