Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Dental Dams (aka, Thank You Anthony Rapp)!

This evening, I had the pleasure of hearing Anthony Rapp, star of the poignant and rousing Rent, speak about his experience with the show to kick off Aids Awareness Week.  He is well-spoken and smart, and was patient (more patient than I was) with some of the foolish questions people asked, such as, “Have you met any famous people?” and the dazzling follow-up, “Were they nice?”

However, there were also many smart and insightful questions that people in the audience asked, such as how Rapp deals with some of the negative press surrounding the show due to its controversial subject matter and, to close the evening, if he could provide some candid remarks about how students can be smarter about AIDS prevention in their sexual lives.

He gave some good advice, most of which I had heard before: 1) If you have HIV/AIDS, disclose it to your partner and be responsible. 2) Always use protection–condoms or dental dams.

Hold the phone–dental dams?  Condoms, fine.  They make sense to me.  However, I had never really thought about dental dams before.  Sure, I’d heard the term somewhere before (probably in Savage Love, my favorite column); however, I had never really bothered to research them.

But in the interest of sexual health, and since I am totally ignorant on the subject of dental dams (which means that there are probably many other people as stupid as I am about this), I thought, “Hey!  I should blog about it.”  (A thought that has been popping up more and more in my mind lately.)

So, thank you Anthony Rapp for your lovely speech, Q&A session, your beautiful song, my new autographed shirt, and most importantly, for starting us on this Journey of Dental Damming.

Here we go. . .

According to coolnurse.com’s article on dental dams, they are about 6-inch square pieces of latex that are used to prevent the spread of STIs (primarily HIV/AIDS and genital herpes) between partners during oral-anal or oral-vaginal sex.  They need to be spread across one’s entire vulva or anus to be effective.  (Vaginal dams are apparently slightly smaller sometimes, but they stretch when rinsed.)  Do NOT reuse a dental dam.  Ever.  Don’t even think about it.  Not even on the same partner.  No way.

Also, don’t forget to lubricate–both your partner and the side of the dam that will be touching the partner.  Only use water-based lubricants, since oil-based lubricants can degrade the latex and make the dam less effective.

Another important thing to know about them is that dams need to be rinsed before using.  There is a chalky, starchy powder that is bad, bad, bad for anuses (or ani, as I like to call them) and vaginas.  If you let that stuff stay on the dam, there is a risk of causing infection, plus there is a big ewww-factor.  So, rinse thoroughly, and then let them air-dry.  (This means that one needs to think ahead and be prepared–like the Boy Scouts, only cooler.  And with, one hopes, better outfits, unless you’re into that sort of thing.)

A couple more tips, from the US Department of Veterans Affairs of all places:

1) Just like a condom, check the expiration dates.  Don’t risk using an ancient dam that’s been in someone’s wallet since 1999.

2) Just like a condom, check for holes.  Toss anything suspicious.

3) (I found this strange and semi-hilarious).  In a separate paragraph the VA said, “Some people use plastic wrap instead of a dental dam. It’s thinner.”

According to the University of Albany, plastic wrap CAN be effective at preventing the spread of herpes, but that it hasn’t been tested for HIV/AIDS prevention.  So, it is riskier.  However, since, as the VA helpfully tells us, “It’s thinner,” the sensations might be better.  Also, do NOT use microwaveable plastic wrap, since it is porous and, thus, completely ineffective.

As for purchasing these items, they are more difficult to find than condoms, though they should be readily available at most legit pharmacies that sell condoms.  (Many universities–not this one–also have them in Student Health Centers or in vending machines in restrooms.)  However, if you can’t find one at Walgreens, or are too embarrassed to ask if they are being kept behind the counter along with the condoms, try visiting Condomania and do some online shopping.  (They even come in flavors!)

If you’re more of a DIY-er, though, you can also make dental dams yourself!  Here’s how:

According to About.com, this little craft project can be done in 3 minutes, using only a pair of scissors and either a condom or a latex glove.

Condom method:

1) Take an unlubricated condom (lubricated ones can make your tongue go numb–better to go with the unlubricated condom and add your own)

2) Unwrap and unroll it completely

3) Cut off the tip

4) Cut down one side of the condom.  You should now have a small the rectangle the perfect size for cunnilingus or rimming.

Glove method (more tricky, but you can get a cooler result), directly from About.com:

There are two ways to do it! The first is to cut off the three middle fingers… which gives you a square with two handles where you can insert your thumbs to make the dental dam easier to manipulate. The second is to cut off all the fingers, except for the thumb, and then slit the glove down the pinky side. That gives you a square with a lovely place in the middle (i.e. the thumb) you can use to safely insert your tongue, or a finger, into the person you love.

Okay kids–lesson over.

6 Responses

  1. wow. i giggled throughout the entire reading of this post. i am infinitely immature.

    p.s. quite the extensive research. i’m glad you could share your newfound knowledge with the rest of us.

  2. Wow! I learned about dental dams and microwavable plastic wrap from this! Thanks, Word Warrior!

  3. I wish you had asked!!! Nobody knows more about dental dams than someone who does sex ed with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teenagers on a regular basis!

    The problem is, they exist, they’re a good thing, and virtually no one uses them, especially since it’s fairly common knowledge that it’s practically impossible for women to pass HIV to each other through oral/vaginal contact. But it happens. And there are tons of other diseases out there too that people ignore. They just skip the whole dental dam thing because it’s a “hassle” and they prefer tasting their partner to tasting the latex.

    You know what? The herp is a hassle too.

  4. Um, one important/awkward thing the otherwise comprehensive post left out: Flavored condoms should never be used for vaginal sex. The sweeteners used can lead to all sorts of infections.
    Wow, I really couldn’t have picked a more awkward topic for my first post.

  5. Thanks for the tip Bento! Important information, and I’m glad it wasn’t too awkward for you to share with us!

  6. I just happened to come across your site. I notice that you feature the dental dam from Line One Laboratories (LOL). They are not cleared by the US FDA. There is only one dam that is: the Sheer Glyde Dam. LOL cannot make claims that they cannot substantiate. The Sheer Glyde Dam is the only dam that has been tested and proven to be effective for the prevention of the transmission of STDs for safe oral sex. LOL is their (Trustex) condom material. It has not been tested to the same protocol as an oral barrier. It’s not been proven to be an effective barrier for oral sex.
    Thank You – Barbara Lippert – President – Glyde USA Inc. 206.283-7664 Seattle, WA
    Submitted in the spirit of having your information current and accurate.

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