Often, when I do live “Ask the Sexpert” events, I find that questions from several different people will follow a theme. This happened again a few weeks ago:

“Can you transmit HPV orally?”

“Is there a pleasurable way to protect yourself when eating pussy?”

“Ass to mouth… Safe or not?”

And finally, “Dental dams? REALLY?”

The short answer to all of those questions is, “Yes, dental dams! Really!”

April is Sexually Transmitted Infection awareness month, so it’s a perfect time to discuss the least known member of the safer sex family. Dental dams were designed to be used by dentists and oral surgeons, to isolate a specific tooth and maintain an operating field free of blood and saliva. A dam is a large-ish (6×10-inch) sheet of soft, flexible, and non-permeable material. Sexy, am I right? It gets better, I promise.

As a safer sex method, it acts as a barrier for sexual activities beyond inserting a penis into an orifice. Dams are usually made from latex, but polyurethane versions are also available for folks who may be allergic. The latex dams are almost always flavored.

“Flavored?” you might be asking yourself. “Why flavored?” Well, most frequently people use dams as barrier protection between mouths and genitals. Many STIs can be transferred orally, including HPV, herpes, chlamydia, and syphilis. If you enjoy oral sex (cunnilingus) or rimming (oral-anal contact), placing a barrier over the vulva or anus can reduce that risk. Additionally, dams can be used during non-penetrative genital contact. You know, grinding, scissoring, tribbing, etc. (See? I told you it was sexy.)

The dams’ thin material easily allows sensation and warmth to be felt by both parties. Adding a little lube under the dam can really increase the recipient’s sensitivity, too. They’re easy to use, though like most sexy things, the first couple of times can take a little getting used to. And they’re affordable, too. In a pinch, you can also cut open a condom, cut the palm out of latex or nitrile glove or use a rectangle of plastic wrap (such as Saran).

To use a dental dam, unfold it and hold it flat against the body before any oral or genital contact has begun. Feel free to ask your partner for a hand holding it in place. Like condoms, each dam can only be used once, and should not be flipped over to use the other side. If it feels weird at first, stick with it. Just like all safer sex methods, the benefits far outweigh the initial awk.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, April is STI awareness month. Fifty percent of sexually active young people will contract an STI before they turn 25 years old. As a service to the community, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is participating in GYT: Get Yourself Tested. Throughout the month, they are offering free STI screenings at every clinic in the state. You can schedule a test online at besafewi.org or by phone at 1-800-230-PLAN.