Fact: you can still catch STIs from oral sex. So if you're going down on your partner, it's worth using protection. If your partner is female, this means a dental dam. A what? We explain all.
What the hell is a dental dam?
A dental dam is a thin square of latex for putting over your vulva during oral sex. This acts as a barrier to prevent the spread of STIs. Dams come in a variety of flavours, and can also be made by cutting up a condom.
Why haven't I heard of dental dams before?
Firstly, there's a common misconception that oral sex is 'safe'. It's not. Sure, you can't get pregnant from having oral sex, but you can catch an unsavoury collection of STIs, including Herpes, Syphilis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, HPV, and even HIV. This isn't just from giving blow jobs, but from going down on girls as well. Yet, safe oral sex isn't as widely discussed as it needs to be. There's a lack of promotion of the risks and so the humble dental dam isn't getting the recognition it deserves.
"A lot of young people haven't heard of dental dams, and that's part of the problem," says Dr Ranj Singh, a doctor who specialises in young people's health. "But oral sex is not risk-free. You can catch STIs and the risk is real enough to be using them."
Where can I get dental dams?
Annoyingly, it's not easy. Mainstream high-street stores don't tend to stock them, but they're available online - just make sure it's a trusted source. At £7 for four they're not cheap, but you can get them for free from your local STI clinic where a health specialist will teach you how to use them. And condoms can be made into dental dams, too. We recommend using flavoured ones as the taste of latex can sometimes be a turn-off.
"Don't feel embarrassed about pulling them out of your top drawer. Condoms aren't exactly going to win any beauty contests.
How do I use a dental dam?
Dr Ranj gives his tips on ensuring you're using a dental dam properly:
- Place the dam over the vulva before ANY oral to genital contact. Either the giver or receiver can hold it in place.
- Use a new dam each time you have oral sex.
- Don't turn it over. Make sure the side in contact with the genitals stays on that side.
- Add lubricant to the side in contact with your lady bits for increased sensitivity and sensation.
- Don't use with oil-based lubricants because they can erode the latex. Stick to water-based instead.
Rimming and dental dams
They aren't just used to cover up fannies. Dams are used during anal oral sex - otherwise known as 'rimming' - too. It's doubly important you use a dam when rimming because you're not only at risk of catching an STI but also other bugs. Use a dental dam to cover an anus the same way you would cover a vagina. But make sure you don't transfer the dam from anus to fanny, or vice versa. Use a new dental dam for each tongue exploration sesh.
Lesbian sex and dental dams
OK, it's easier to pass on an STI through penetrative sex so a penis-free sex life does reduce the risk, but not enough to neglect protection. When giving/receiving oral sex with any new partner, make sure you use a dental dam until you've both been tested for STIs.
But dental dams are just plain weird. Do I have to use one?
Chances are you'll read this article and think 'hmm, getting me some dental dams is a pretty good idea'! Then you'll Google image them, see what they look like, and think 'bollocks to that'.
"Dams just aren't very attractive," says Dr Singh. "They're essentially just really functional, and putting a big square of plastic over your bits doesn't feel very sexy." This may make it tricky - and unfortunately, un-erotic - to ask a partner to use them. But your sexual health is important, right? So don't feel too embarrassed about pulling them out of your top drawer/hand bag/back pocket. After all, condoms aren't exactly going to win any beauty contests.
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