Illustrated By Austin Watts.
What comes to mind when you hear the words "dental dam"? If you've had some dental work done recently, of course, you may have become acquainted with one after your dentist inserted it between your molars and your bicuspids. Outside of the dentist's office, though, chances are the only time you've ever even seen one of these mythical devices was that one day in health class when your sex-ed teacher awkwardly held one up and breezed through its function and benefits in between the condom demonstration and the IUD discussion.
If you never gave a second thought to this simple square of rubber that claims to protect against transmission of STIs during cunnilingus, well, you're definitely not alone. The humble dental dam has never quite caught on, in this country or elsewhere. But, a story published today on The Verge exploring the history of the dental dam might just change the way you think about this simple square of rubber.
The story cites a number of reasons why more people don't use a dental dam during oral sex. Specifically, its origins as a niche product created and marketed for queer women have arguably kept it from gathering mainstream steam. But, because use of the dam is so low in both the queer community and among heterosexual couples, little research has been done on just how effective the dam is at preventing STIs. Of course, as The Verge story acknowledges, many think that the risks of contracting an STI from oral sex are so low that there's little point to even use a dental dam, let alone spending money on research or advertising.
So, if no one's using dental dams, why keep making them? STI risk notwithstanding, the story points out that, for many queer women, the fact that there is a product out there that specifically addresses their sexual issues is an important political symbol — it suggests that their sexual health is valuable and acknowledged. In a world where queer female sexuality is regularly misunderstood and undervalued, perhaps the dental dam is a much bigger deal than it seems.