When will dental dams have their moment?

Around 50 years since dental dams were introduced to the bedroom, they’re all but non-existent in media and sexual education.

The humble dental dam has a not-so-seductive origin story. Born in the dentist’s office, they were first used to isolate a cavity or tooth during surgery. It wasn’t until the 1970s that experimentation began with using dental dams in a sexual context, growing in usage during the ‘80s as the HIV crisis brought safe sex awareness to the fore. Modern dental dams are made from polyurethane or latex, much like condoms, and serve as protective barrier from sexually transmitted diseases when performing cunnilingus or anal play. Despite their necessity, dental dams unfortunately fall into two categories which have been systematically overlooked by the media and the education system; feminine pleasure and queer sex. 

One of the biggest obstacles faced by the poor dental dam has been marketing. Forbes went so far as to publish an article in 2018 titled ‘Nobody Knows How To Sell Dental Dams’. A large part of this can be accounted to the fact that the dams have had little to no re-branding since their invention in the 1860’s for dental use. Over one hundred and fifty years later, they are still sporting a name that evokes images of grinding and suction in a particularly unpleasurable context. Whether this can be chalked up to a lack of marketing tools rather than the unwillingness of big businesses and pharmaceuticals to invest in products that support marginal groups is hard to determine, but the latter certainly wouldn’t shock many. Particularly when you look at their masculine counterpart, condoms. 

Condoms can be found in every rib or flavor at any petrol station, corner shop or progressive car wash. Yet the beleaguered dental dam is limited to sex shops and family planning centres. This issue is exacerbated in smaller towns and regional areas where options don’t include a row of sex shops on Oxford Street that specifically cater to a queer community. This brings up the simple factor of accessibility. The aforementioned Forbes article cites statistics published in 2010, yet they were gathered in Sydney in 2004 — with only 543 participants in the study. The statistic that 9.7% of women had used a dental dam feels all but irrelevant by 2022. Dental dams deserve real research on their effectiveness, usage, and accessibility, with this example bringing into focus the overall lack of funding and research being made into finding safer options for oral sex. 

Unfortunately, due to most curriculums and educational systems not providing adequate or any queer sexual health education, responsibility falls to individuals to educate themselves on the best protection from orally transmitted sexual diseases. They can be dangerous and certainly are infectious. As such, here are some local shops to get your hands on a dental dam in Sydney; for a close-to-campus option, Max Block in Newtown are fully stocked, as well as SWOP in Surry Hills, and Toolshed in Darlinghurst – to name a few. Despite dental dams previously being available in the Queer Space on campus, they are not currently stocked. The above listed retailers are largely sex shops, so for those who would are uncomfortable or unable to access a sex shop buying online is certainly an option. Flora and Fauna sell Glydes vegan and compostable dams with discreet delivery, they also come in strawberry and vanilla flavors. Use this knowledge wisely, and impress your next partner by whipping out a dental dam.