How I learned about the importance of a dental dam

When I first heard about a dental dam I thought it was a joke (partly because I watched my professor demonstrate how to use one by licking a giant piece of plastic wrap). I thought to myself, who would ever want to use something like that? To me, the idea of using one sounded weird because at the time, I was under the impression that STDs were only transmitted through vaginal or anal sex, not oral sex.

Later when I became a peer educator, I explained what dental dams were, passed them around classrooms, and gave demonstrations on how to make them out of a latex gloves and condoms, but I never truly understood the importance of using one. I just knew that you were supposed to use them for oral sex.

It wasn’t until I read this story posted by a young girl living with genital herpes that I truly realized the importance of using a dental dam. In this story, a girl named Chelsea describes how at 19, she was diagnosed with genital herpes. She talks about how she and her boyfriend used a condom when they had sex and that she knew about his prior sexual history. However, what Chelsea didn’t know was that her boyfriend had the oral strain of herpes, the type that gives you cold sores around your mouth, and she ended up getting genital herpes from having oral sex with him.

Before reading this blog, I didn’t really understand that oral herpes could become genital herpes. I was under the impression that oral herpes was completely different from genital herpes, but that is so untrue. Someone with oral herpes might be able to give someone else genital herpes by going down on them (performing oral sex on them), whether they have a cold sore present or not.

That is why dental dams are so important. I now know that dental dams are essential to practicing safe sex because they help prevent oral herpes from spreading to the genitals and becoming genital herpes, they also prevent the spread of other STDs like gonorrhea, hepatitis B and syphilis. Although getting an STD through oral sex is less likely than getting an STD through vaginal or anal sex, it can still happen; therefore, until you know the status of your partner, it is important to use a dental dam on a female and a condom on a male for oral sex.

Check out these links to learn more about oral herpes, genital herpes and how to reduce your risk: