What on earth is a dental dam?

To protect against STI’s whack on a male condom and hey presto, right? WRONG…well kind of. There is so much more to it than that, and how can you use a male condom for sex between two women anyway? Read on to see a fuller range of options when it comes to barriers against STI’s.

So most of us know that male condoms will protect us from STI’s. They are 98% effective, if used correctly, which is pretty good odds. Most of us also know that female or vaginal condoms exist, but aren’t really sure whether they’re effective, or how to use them. They are a little less effective, if used correctly, than male condoms at 95% effectiveness. Finally, most people don’t know what dental dams are, or how to use them. The most common question I’ve had since starting this blog is “what is a dental dam?” because I mentioned them in a previous post. This made me realise I should probably cover what they are. All three of the barriers I’ve mentioned should protect against STI’s if you use them properly. I’ve tried out all three types.

all 3

This is the third post and is my review of dental dams.

Click here for male condoms.
Click here for female condoms.

Dental dams –

The NHS website defines a dental dam as: a latex or polyurethane (very thin, soft plastic) square, of about 15cm by 15cm, which you can use to cover the anus or female genitals during oral sex. It acts as a barrier to help prevent sexually transmitted infections passing from one person to another.


Effectiveness: Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any statistics on how effective they are. Probably due to two things.
1: the belief that you can’t catch STI’s from oral sex
2: Dental dams are mostly used for sex between two women, which some people believe isn’t really sex, or can’t actually happen.
(If you know where I can find some stats, please let me know!)
Ease of use: Dental dams are a product which are good in theory and do fulfil their purpose. But I don’t feel as though they do it very well. Inside the packet is a fairly big thin sheet of latex, folded up and held folded with a latex band. You simply hold it over the area you want to cover and continue as you would normally for oral sex. However, from trying one out and conversations with others, I’ve found that they’re not as simple as they seem. The latex moves around and ruffles up, which needs constant adjustment, therefore restricting any use of hands. Although they are stated as ‘flavoured and fragrance’ the fragrance was the only thing that came through, leaving just the taste of latex. As with any other barrier method, some of the sensation during sex is diminished but it’s always a small price to pay. On a brighter note, Pasante dental dams each come with a ‘how to use’ leaflet which pretty much tells you all you need to know including reminders not to use oil based lubes and to always check the expiry date. 

When and who: Dental dams can be used as a barrier for oral sex for the vagina and anus. If you’re into those types of oral sex then you can use them, no matter what your sex or gender. A use that people often don’t think about, is if a partner has a cold sore or any other infection around or in their mouth and don’t want to pass it to their partner. Dental dams can be used to stop this transference.
Accessing them: Only once have I been offered a dental dam in a sexual health clinic. That was also only after explicitly stating that I’m not heterosexual. The other times it has been assumed that I only have sex with men. It seems that it is quite hit and miss as to which clinics, pharmacies, and shops stock them. As with female condoms, it may take some searching. I hope posts like this raise awareness for dental dams so that more people ask for them and therefore they will be stocked more as the demand rises. Like condoms they can come in different flavours. I was given 6 dental dams, 3 banana, 3 vanilla. 


TOP TIP: If you can’t get hold of dental dams you can do some DIY on a male condom by cutting it open to form a dental dam like sheet to hold as a barrier.

Personal opinion: Dental dams aren’t pretty. That is clear enough. But they are so important. Even if you know 100% that neither you nor your partner have an STI, they are still something that you should consider having. For example, in cases of mouth ulcers which are infectious or to stay hygienic if you have oral sex around the anus.  In the UK we are getting better at normalising male condoms, so why isn’t it the same with dental dams? I think I’ll leave that one for another post.


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