What Are Dental Dams & How Do You Use Them?

Apr 13, 2018 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Image: Tory Rust/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

When it comes to safe sex, you have to know about all the options on the table. While folks might immediately think "condoms" or "birth control" when they hear the phrase "safe sex," these are not the only tools for safe and fun sex. More to the point, condoms and birth control are most commonly used in sexual intercourse when a penis is involved — but not everyone has a penis, and yet everyone likes to have safe, worry-free sex. Moreover, with or without a penis, not all kinds of sex are compatible with condoms.

So, what tool is available for those who don't need a condom but still want to pleasure their partner while also lowering the risk of STIs?

Behold, dear friends: the wonderful but oft-forgotten dental dam.

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If you've never heard of a dental dam or just aren't sure how to use it, keep reading to get up to speed on this magical prophylactic.

More: How & Where to Get Free Condoms

What is a dental dam?

The Center for Young Women's Health says dental dams "are used as a barrier during oral sex [...] a sexual act that involves the mouth, lips or tongue and a penis, vagina, anus or genital area."

Why should I use a dental dam?

The dental dam is a major lifesaver when you think about it because if there's one thing many of us can agree on, it's that the typical human mouth can be gross. Kissing is one thing because at least that's mouth-to-mouth (although there are certain STIs that can be passed orally and you need to be mindful of that too). But imagine mixing the wild card body part that is the mouth with a person's genitals or anus and all the things happening there.

Dental dams add a layer of protection, greatly lowering the risk of orally picking up or passing along any bacteria or STIs. Note, however, that dental dams, like most birth control, aren't guaranteed 100 percent effective and have to be used correctly to work.

How do I use a dental dam?

Dental dams are used much in the same way you'd use a condom, except you're not rolling a dental dam onto your genitalia, but rather laying it over the genitals or anus. For those who need visuals, the Centers for Disease Control's page on dental dams illustrates how to use them in an effective manner (bonus!). So, by laying the dam over the genitals or anus, this allows you to use your tongue and mouth to your heart's content while keeping a safe barrier between your mouth and your partner's genitals or anus.

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The Centers for Disease Control also advises that dental dams, like condoms, can only be used once and should be discarded when you're done. Additionally, you should be mindful not to turn over the dental dam during sex so the side your mouth touched is now on your partner's genitals or anus and vice versa because, well, it kinda defeats the purpose.

More: The Truth Behind the Pullout Method

Where can I buy dental dams?

Thankfully, dental dams are not that difficult to source. If you're a fan of Amazon, then a simple search of "dental dams" will yield results. Prices vary, but the median price is about $20 before shipping, and a typical pack contains between 15 and 30 dams.

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Dental dams are also generally available at Planned Parenthood, often for free. And don't forget you can always call your local health department to see if they can give you the 411 on procuring dental dams as well.

Can I make my own dental dam?

If you're unable to get access to dental dams and happen to have some condoms in your possession, you can definitely — and safely! — transform one into a dental dam. In fact, the Center for Young Women's Health features a section dedicated to transforming a condom into this handy tool.

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It's worth noting that you can't turn just anything into a dental dam. Paper towels, aluminum foil, plastic wrap or any other thing you might consider barrierworthy are not viable candidates for homemade dental dams. A condom you can buy in a store or from a trusted source is made out of the same material as dental dams (traditionally, this is latex), which is what makes it a viable option.

Is there anything I have to be cautious of when using a dental dam?

In addition to the fact that dental dams don't guarantee 100 percent protection against STIs, you have to be mindful that the dental dam you're using is free of tears or punctures and that it is still usable (check that expiration date, folks). As with condoms, you should make sure neither you nor your partner have a latex sensitivity — if someone does, there are non-latex options.

More: Male Birth Control Pill Is One Step Closer to Reality

Now, go forth and engage in safe sexy time with confidence.

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