Here's how to protect yourself against STIs during vaginal-oral and oral-anal sex
What are dental dams?
Dental dams are used to protect against the transfer of STIs during oral-vaginal sex and oral-anal sex (rimming.) The safest way to have oral sex is to keep your partner’s skin and body fluids (vaginal secretions, saliva, blood, semen [cum], urine, feces) away from your mouth by using a dam that is the right size for the area.
What are glyde dams?
Glyde dams are a newer version of a dental dam which was originally designed as a protective measure for dentists working on a patient’s teeth. The glyde dam is twice the length and width of a dental dam but half the thickness.
Who should use them?
Anyone who has oral-vaginal or oral-anal sex. This means oral sex that is performed on a vagina or an anus. If you want to give or receive oral sex always use a barrier in the form of a dam or a condom. Dental dams when used correctly during oral vaginal or oral anal sex (rimming) help reduce the risk of catching or spreading STIs such as herpes, gonorrhea, genital warts, syphilis, HIV or parasites.
Ok, so how do they work?
- Oral-vaginal or oral-anal sex involves skin-to-skin contact: using your mouth to lick or suck (‘going down’ or ‘giving head’) on your partner's labia, vagina, or anus (‘rimming’).
- First off, check the expiry date, open the dam and put a few drops of water-based lube on one side of it. This will help hold it in place, and also has the added bonus of increasing sensitivity.
- Place the dam over the vagina or anus. The side of the dam with lube on it should be facing down.
- Proceed with oral sex as normal, licking one side only - never flip it over and use the other side.
- Once you’re done, dispose of and don’t re-use.
- Sexually transmitted infections can be present without any symptoms. Anyone who has ever had oral, vaginal or anal sexual contact may have unknowingly been exposed to STIs.
- Blisters and cold sores in or around the mouth are caused by the herpes virus and can be transmitted to the genital tissue during oral sexual contact even when no symptoms are present. Many people do not know that they carry this virus in their system. Abstinence is recommended when a person has active blisters or sores in or around the mouth.
Great! Well where can I get them?
Erm, well that’s the problem. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, dental/glyde dams are not widely available in pharmacies. However just because dental/glyde dams aren’t available, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to protect yourself during oral-vaginal or oral-anal sex.
The good news is, there are plenty of places online you can buy them, and a quick Google should throw up lots of results. Also, they are sometimes available at college sexual health weeks or LGBT events. GOSHH provide dental/glyde dams on request. Store dams in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight.
And if you still are having trouble getting a hold of them, the great news is, you can make your own!
How to make a dental dam
You can easily make your own dental dam that is just as effective as a store-bought one. All you need is a male condom, a scissors, and half a minute.
- Take the condom out of the pack and unroll it. Make sure the condom is in date and has a CE Kite mark on it!
- Cut off the tip and the base.
- Cut down the length of it on one side.
- Unroll it into a rectangular sheet.
- And that’s it! You now have an effective, homemade dental dam. Use it in the exact same way as described above.
Hint: The condoms that make the best dental dams are the unlubricated ones that haven’t been treated with a spermicide as they make condoms less effective so get a water-based lubricant (they’ll also taste better). You might want to try out some flavoured condoms (they can come in strawberry, mint, watermelon...), and the extra-thin ones will be best for sensitivity.
Remember: The age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17. If you're over 16, you can consent to medical treatment including any treatment or tests needed.