By Karen Espig

Why is it called a “dental dam” if it’s used for sex, you ask? Well, because originally, it was used by dentists and still is! It’s called a dam because it acts as a barrier while the dentist works, keeping saliva and bacteria away from the tooth and preventing dental compounds (such as mercury) from being swallowed.

What Is It, And Why Use It?

Dental dams are pieces of thin, flexible latex or polyurethane cut into a square shape, usually 15 x 25 cm in size (6 x 10 inches). Those marketed for use in sexual activity come in a variety of colours and flavours, such as vanilla, wildberry and cola.

They act as a barrier during cunnilingus (oral-vaginal), fellatio (oral-penile), or analingus (oral-anal) sex. While research is scant, they are thought to reduce the risk of STIs, including HPV, genital herpes, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and HIV. They certainly reduce the risk of transferring bacteria and faecal matter that may be present on the anus.

In the 90s, people began using them during oral sex to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) from spreading. In 1998, the condom company Glyde USA got Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its use as a barrier during oral sex, and Sheer Glyde Dams were born.

Who Should Use Them?

If you are sexually active with multiple partners or new partners, you should use dental dams to prevent the transmission of STIs during oral sex. Everyone should consider using them during oral-anal activities, regardless of how long or much you trust your partner.

I further suggest giving the dental dam a try as a way to insert variety into your sexual play repertoire. Adding lubricant (water or silicone based) on the side of the dam in contact with the anus or vulva may increase the pleasure and sensation for the receiver. 

Fun Facts 

For those in exclusive relationships (or where STIs are not an issue), using a dental dam when you play in the anal area means you may follow it up by going down on your partner (vagina or penis) without risking the transfer of nasty bacteria like E. coli. 

Just be sure to toss that dental dam out in between activities. You will need a new one if you return to the back door. The transfer of bacteria during sexual activity is also the cause of many uterine tract infections (UTIs).

How To Use Them

First and foremost, never use them more than once, and only use one side. To do otherwise completely negates the reduction of risk. 

Be sure to open the package carefully and unfold the dam. The square is quite thin (to maximise sensation). If there is powder on it, this may be left on or rinsed off. Add some lubricant to the side that will be against the body for extra stimulation and comfort. Lube also helps to hold the barrier in place.

On the topic of lubricants, if you use a latex dam, only use water–or silicone-based lubes, as oil-based ones will degrade the latex. If you are using a polyurethane barrier, oil-based is just fine. This same rule applies to latex condoms.

Place the dental dam over the area and hold it there during sexual play. Discard after use and only use once. To really get the picture, check out this video.

Please note, though, that dental dams are ineffective during penetrative sex for either STI risk reduction or pregnancy prevention. They are strictly for oral, folks.

Where To Buy Them

You may purchase them online from the original Australian company, Glyde, choosing from many colours and flavours of vegan-friendly dams. There are many other online offerings, such as from Amazon or Condom Depot. They are often sold in adult bookstores and sex shops, as well as some pharmacies.

If need be, you can make your own by altering a standard condom or latex glove. You could also use a food-grade plastic bag in a pinch, but double it up to ensure it doesn’t tear.

And speaking of latex gloves, they are also handy for clean anal play. Get your glove on, put a little lube on the finger and pleasure the anus, discarding the glove before touching any other delicate bits.

A little Sex-Ed

Perhaps you are a little wary of the whole licking the butt-hole concept, so let me help you out there. Tossing the salad (as it is also called) can be fun and pleasurable; however, all anal play requires consideration as to hygiene. Sometimes that can be a bit awkward, particularly in the moment, if you know what I mean. Your playmate’s idea of clean may not be yours. Here’s where the dental dam comes in really handy.

So now that you know the ins and outs of oral-vaginal, oral-penile, and oral-anus play, apply the wisdom and play safe!