Also.Also.Also: Hi Raise Your Hand If You Use Dental Dams

HELLO good day to YOU and also your favorite person, whomsoever that may be. I spent the weekend moving into a new place, which means I’m currently in an actual office instead of the small plot of space between a small living room and a smaller kitchen!!! It also means that my cat is baffled re: how she should spend her days and is just roaming around the house meowing up at the ceiling and hiding in closets, aka living the dream.

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Laneia is the Executive Editor and founding member of Autostraddle, and you're the reason she's here. She's 37, has two kids, two dogs, one cat, one Megan, and some personal essays.

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16 Comments

  1. The dental dam article was really interesting! I just had someone come in for STI testing and counseling who was new to having sex with someone with a vulva so I did tell them about dental dams, but it’s such a barrier that they’re not easily available in a grocery store. I lean more on the side of we still need to teach dental dams; just because people don’t use condoms as much as they say they do, doesn’t mean we don’t still push them as a barrier method. At the end of the day, you can’t control people, the best you can do is just give them all the information and let them make the best choices for themselves.

  2. I find it a bit strange that dental dam discussions only ever focus on cunnilingus, as if rimming doesn’t also present the same STI risks along with the potential consequences of ingesting faecal bacteria.

    • I’ve only used dental dams in earnest for rimming.

      I was out when dental dams were first promoted for preventing HIV during lesbian sex… when there was no evidence that HIV had been transmitted DURING lesbian sex. I certainly never bothered with them for that purpose.

      Frankly, I felt at the time there was a certain mindset among certain lesbians that’s embodied in this ridiculous quote from the article: “Using things like dental dams is one way to establish that [lesbian] sex is really sex. If you need a product, that makes it real.”

      Guys had to use condoms now, so we needed something to demonstrate we were also serious about “safer sex”. What the MRAs and people of that ilk would call “virtue signalling”. Gloves, on the other hand (erm, pun not intended), actually *do* have a use in preventing unfortunate things taking up residence in your vagina.

      In the article, thankfully, it also points out that dams could be useful for preventing other more common STDs (such as herpes and so on), and I do think there could be more constructive promotion around those uses. I also think there needs to be some actual research as to their effectiveness. But someone really needs to redesign them, because they really are like licking a slightly thinner balloon.

      For rimming (and even during cunnilingus), they’re fine on the receiving end (if a little distracting) if you use them with lube. For the person who’s on the giving side, they’re bloody horrible. At least, I heartily dislike being on the giving end and having to use them (but, if that’s what someone wants to feel safer, of course bitching AT them about it is not cool).

  3. I HATE that dental dams are what is taught for lesbian sex ed because they are useless and need to die. The article doesn’t actually go into it, but there is no real-world studies that show that dental dams work at all. They’re a dental device that’s someone did some lab testing and went ‘hmm…that should work at the micron level to prevent disease if you use it exactly right’. But they’ve never been able to test in the real world it as they can’t get people to use them for long enough. It’s dangerous to send young lesbians into sex thinking dental dams when will protect them when there isn’t solid evidence that they will. They’ll likely remove them midway on the first go as they require two hands to keep on safely, which defeats a lot of the benefits of oral (two free hands) and that’s not accounting for making it harder to use oral sex techniques and dexterity which is really most the rest of the advantage over hands. Most the time they’re not even taught the best practice which involves draping more than just stretching it across.

    Meanwhile, they don’t learn what counts as an open wound on their hands and using gloves if they have them or what sex toy materials are body safe/able to be sanitized or even that they DO need condoms for sex toy use. They don’t learn that there are totally safe alternatives to oral that will give plenty or orgasms if they don’t know their partner’s status. There needs to be real and comprehensive sex ed that leaves the dental dams out of it.

    • @rtarara, thank you so much for your comment! I am trying to learn about and decide which safer sex practices to use as I begin having sex after having developed some chronic illnesses, and your comment is helpful.

      I have a couple questions; no pressure to respond. 🙂

      Would you mind sharing what counts as an open wound on the hands that would make gloves a good idea?

      And also, what do you specifically mean by “their partner’s status?” Just HIV or other STIs too?

  4. wow! i also want elizabeth warren to cancel my student loan debt what a coincidence!

    for legit tho the concept of NOT paying down my loans every month is anxiety-inducing bc what am i supposed to do? buy the fancy generic mac and cheese?

    • I laugh at the people who argue that her cutting student loans is a kick in the face who worked hard to pay off theirs. What kind of argument is that? That’s like saying developing a cure for cancer is a kick to the face to all the people that died of cancer, or getting rid of slavery was a kick to the face for all the people who lived their entire lives as slaves. The argument that people should have to suffer in debt paying off student loans because people have always suffered is absolutely ridiculous.

      • I’ve been working hard to pay more than the minimum payment on my loans each month because I believed that was in my best interest. I don’t make a lot and I’ve given up a lot of non-necessities in order to make this possible, but it’s worth it to me because I want to pay off my student loans sooner and pay as little interest on them as possible. If it turns out that I could’ve just been paying the minimum payment since graduation and all the rest would be forgiven…that feels like someone pulling out the rug from under me. All my hard work was for nothing. I sacrificed unnecessarily. I threw money down the drain when I could’ve been saving it for something else or just enjoying life a little more.

        Do I believe that higher education should be less expensive/free so that future students never have to make the choices I did? Yes.
        Do I think student loan debt relief should be designed in such a way black and brown people benefit most, because those populations were economically disadvantaged to begin with? Yes.
        Do I think there should be debt relief for people who have struggled as much as I have not to make extra payments but to make their minimum payments at all? Yes.

        But I don’t want to end up in a situation where it would’ve been better for me to make only the minimum payments on my loans. It would suck to find out that I paid more overall than necessary.

        I absolutely do not believe in suffering for the sake of suffering or that just because I have struggled others should struggle too. Absolutely not. Characterizing my personal emotional reaction to the student loan discussion in that way is a strawman and I’m tired of seeing that thrown around.

        Laugh at me if you want but I can think our country needs education reform while also feeling kicked in the face about how I personally would be impacted by current proposals.

        • Look I understand. I have worked hard and have managed to pay for all my college and university by not doing things such as traveling. However I do not feel angry or upset that peoples debts are forgiven even though all they did was pay the minimum payment or less. The fact that they were unable to do what you and I have done does not mean they are working less hard or sacrificing what we sacrificed to achieve what we have. It could mean that they are less fortunate in what they make for a living, or they could be using the money to take care of family first. Do not assume they are throwing their money away on frivolous things. I consider it unlucky that the debt relief was to late for me but I would not be upset if it happened. The only thing I would suggest is maybe giving some type of bonus to the people who paid over the minimum payment like giving back any money that they over paid the next year on your taxes.

          • Yeah, I’m not angry or upset that other people’s debts could be forgiven. I just feel frustrated that I made what I thought was a low risk financially responsible choice and if the bill passes it will change things so that I might be better off if I *hadn’t* made that choice. (And I am still paying off my loans.)

            I’m sure people are actually being jerks who think others should suffer just because they did, but I think the “kick in the face” reaction is also coming from people in situations like mine who are still struggling to do our best against the things all millennials are facing and had a moment of panic where it seemed all our hard work was for nothing.

            Like, if the bill were on the table I would still want my senator to vote for it even if I didn’t benefit but it’s currently still up for discussion so I would like to see the plan evolve. I do like your idea about getting back extra payments as tax relief (even if it’s not all the extras in totality) and I think that those are pieces worth discussing, nationally.

  5. Just want to note that the Atlantic article is very cissexist, as not all women or lesbians have vulvas. That said:

    I have only used a dental dam twice, I think. The first time I used one, I tried to do the stretch-it-across method and it didn’t work at all, obviously. The second time, the person I was having sex with actually knew how to use them (the drape and nestle into the folds of the vulva method). I don’t really remember how it felt. I think part of the pleasure of oral sex is knowing that someone is tasting you and how intimate that is.

    *That* said, I have not had sex in 3 years, and since then I have developed some chronic illnesses including Lupus, which makes getting infections much more dangerous. And I also have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, so I usually cannot take prescriptions medications such as those that would be prescribed for an STI. That is why I am going to try to do all the safer sex things going forward, I guess? But if dental dams don’t even work, as an above commenter wrote, it would be great to not have to use them.

    This is a great quote from the article: “Botsford believes sex educators are taught to emphasize STD prevention in this way because of a preoccupation with negative sex outcomes rather than pleasure. ‘We don’t blame people for getting cancer or getting the flu; we blame the existence of those illnesses. But with STIs, the problem isn’t the existence of the virus: It’s the fact that you had sex and you didn’t do the things you should have done.'”

    Once again, though, it’s tricky when you can’t take medications if you do get an STI.

    Glad to see great conversation here in the comments!

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