Safer Sex

Dental Dams

What is a dental dam and why should I use one?

Dental dams are small, thin, square pieces of latex that are used for oral-vaginal or oral-anal sex. They get their name from their original purpose for use in dental procedures. Dental dams help to reduce the transmission of STIs during oral sex by acting as a barrier to vaginal and anal secretions that contain bacteria and viruses. They come in a variety of sizes and flavors. 

How effective are they in preventing STIs?

Because dental dams act as a barrier to bodily fluids, they help reduce STI transmission. Many STIs, including herpes, HPV and HIV, can be transmitted through oral sex. Like condoms, dental dams must be used correctly and consistently in order to be effective. 

How do I use them?

Dental dams are easy to use. Before using the dam you may want to rinse off any powder that's on the dam and check to make sure there are no holes or perforations. The partner performing oral sex will hold the dam against the vulva or anus of the receiving partner. You can opt to apply a lubricant on the vulva or anus before using the dam. The lubricant can help increase the sensation for the recipient. Be sure to use a water-based lubricant, because oil-based lubricants and lotions will degrade the latex and decrease the dam's effectiveness.

Some important points to keep in mind:

  • When you use the dam, be sure to ONLY use one side. If you turn the dam over and continue to use it, you will expose yourself to the very fluids you're trying to avoid.

  • Do not re-use a dam on another body part (e.g. from anus to vulva or vice-versa) because you can transfer germs from one body area to another.

  • Dams are for one-time use only.

Many people believe that using a dam will reduce the enjoyment of oral sex. The feeling of latex will be different than a tongue, but using a dental dam with lube can offer a new and pleasurable type of stimulation.

Although oral sex is considered less risky than vaginal or anal sex, there is still a risk of transmitting STIs. To be as safe as possible, use a dental dam for every act of oral sex.

How much are dental dams and where can I get them?

We have dental dams available for Brown students here in Health Services. Supplies are available in the 1st or 3rd floor bathrooms or in Health Promotion on the 3rd floor. The LGBTQ Resource Center in the Campus Center, the Sarah Doyle Women's Center, SHAG peer educators and RPLs in the residence halls also have safer sex supplies.  All locations offer external condoms and dental dams. In Health Promotion we also offer internal condoms, non-latex condoms, XL-size condoms, gloves, and lubricant. Brown students can also order safer sex supplies online for delivery to their campus mailbox through Ship n SHAG

All of our safer sex supplies are available without charge. We just ask that you take only what you need and that you not use the free supplies if you need large quantities. 

What if I don't have a dental dam available?

If you don't have a dental dam you can make one out a male or internal condom, latex glove, or saran wrap. To make a dental dam out of a condom, simply cut off the tip and cut down one side. To make a dental dam out of a latex glove, cut off the finger and cut down one side. 

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