Dental dams, what they are & how to use them

Fact: you can still catch STIs from oral sex. So when you’re having consensual sex, regardless of the act, it’s always best to be safe. If your partner has a vagina, this means using a dental dam. A what? We hear you say. The Mix explains what a dental dam is and how to use one for oral sex.

A young woman is reading an information sheet about dental dams.

Dental dam meaning

Essentially, a ‘Dental dam’ means a physical barrier, or a ‘dam’ (hence the name), that prevents fluids from entering the mouth during sexual activities.

What is a dental dam?

Dental dams are thin squares of latex or polyurethane. They can be placed over a vagina when having oral sex. This allows them to act as a barrier method during oral sex to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. FYI, dams come in a variety of flavours, and can also be DIYed by cutting up a condom. 

p.s. if you try the at-home version we’d recommend using flavoured condoms so that the taste of latex doesn’t get in the way of your enjoyment. 

Why haven’t I heard of dental dams before?

Firstly, there’s a common misconception that oral sex is completely ‘safe’. That’s not true at all. Sure, you can’t get pregnant from preforming oral sex. But you can still catch a very unsexy collection of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from this type of sex, including Herpes, Syphilis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, HPV, and even HIV. And this isn’t just from giving blowjobs, but from vaginal oral sex as well. Yet, somehow, safe oral sex isn’t as widely discussed as it should be. As a result, the humble dental dam isn’t getting the recognition it deserves for all its hard work.

“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 the risk involved with having oral sex is real enough to be using them.”

Where can I get dental dams?

Annoyingly enough, it’s not that easy. Even the pharmaceutical world is playing catch-up with emerging research that oral sex isn’t safe. This means that mainstream high-street stores don’t tend to stock them. Good news is they’re available online – just make sure it’s a trusted source.

At £7 for four they’re not cheap. Luckily, you can get them for free from your local STI clinic. Plus a health specialist will even teach you how to use them. Plus plus you know they’re medically reviewed. Seems like a pretty sweet deal to us.

How to use a dental dam for oral sex

Dr Singh gives his tips on dental dam sex:

  • Place the dam over the vagina 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. In other words, make sure the side in contact with the genitals stays on that side.
  • Add lubricant to the side in contact with the vagina for increased sensitivity and sensation.
  • Don’t use dental dams with oil-based lubricants. These can erode the latex. Stick to water-based instead.

Rimming and dental dams

Dental dam sex isn’t just limited to vaginas. Dams are also used during anal oral sex – otherwise known as ‘rimming’. It’s actually doubly important you use a dam when rimming because you’re not only at risk of catching an STI but also other E-coli-y infections (delightful, we know). 

There’s nothing special to using it for either purpose. Simply 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 sesh to have the safest sex possible.

Lesbian sex and dental dams

News flash: Lesbians can still get STIs. OK, technically 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 completely throw protection out the window. 

This means that when giving/receiving oral sex with any new partner, make sure you use a dental dam. At least until you’ve both been tested for STIs.

But dental dams are ugly, smelly and 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’! cause we’re just that persuasive. Problem is, then you’ll Google image them, see what they look like, and think ‘okay, maybe not’.

So we’re warning you ahead of time: dental dams are pretty gross to look at. “Dams just aren’t very attractive,” says Dr Singh. “They’re purely functional. Truth be told, putting, basically, a big square of plastic wrap over your bits doesn’t exactly 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 winning beauty contests any time soon.

You can check out the rest of The Mix’s safe sex resources here.

Next Steps


oral sex

By Holly Bourne

Updated on 27-Jun-2022