Safe-sex advocates offering dental dams

Student services groups say effort to stop sexually transmitted infections must go beyond distributing condoms

Katie Toth shows off the wide range of free products available to students, including specialty condoms, lube and flavoured dental dams. Photo: Emilie Bourque

The University of King’s College students’ union is now giving away free dental dams, along with the Dalhousie Women’s Centre, and they are just about the only campuses you will find them on.

Most campuses these days try to offer students free condoms, in the hopes that everyone will practise safer sex. But student union representatives from both Saint Mary’s University and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University say that condoms are the only things they offer for protection.

At King’s, they have stepped up that service even further. They now offer a total of six products: regular condoms, non-lubricated condoms (for oral sex), large condoms, non-latex condoms, lube and dental dams.

Katie Toth, the King's students' union campus safety co-ordinator, recently started a campaign to let students know the dams were available. These are not a usual item found in many people’s bedrooms, but they can greatly help reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections and dangerous bacteria.

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This is what a dental dam looks like. It's a very thin sheet of latex. Photo: Emilie Bourque

So, dental what?

A dental dam is basically a large rectangle of thin, often flavoured, latex rubber. It acts as a barrier between mouths -- and wherever a mouth may want to go.

They are often imagined as some sort of mouthpiece you’d wear playing hockey, but they get their name from dental dams used in dentists’ offices. A traditional dental dam is put over your mouth before dental work, with a hole punched in it to put a certain tooth through. These small dams were made larger and adapted for safe sex.

The manager at Venus Envy, a sex store in downtown Halifax, says health advocates have not been pushing dental dams as strongly as condoms over the years, but that they have an important place among safe sex products available today. Maggie Haywood says they can be particularly useful in reducing the spread of herpes if a person performing oral sex on a female has a cold sore. Dental dams can also be used to reduce bacteria transferred during anal and oral sex.

Haywood says her store sells a couple each week, at $1.50 each. She thinks it’s great to see campuses handing them out for free.

Currently they are available at the King’s students' union office, the front desk of Alexandra Hall and at the Dalhousie Women’s Centre.

Will students use them?

Jennifer Black, a student at Dalhousie, says she’s heard of them and knows what they’re for, but isn’t sure about others.

“I think they should give them out. What I wonder is how many people would make use of them, or even know what they are or when to use them.”

Black’s not sure if the awareness surrounding or need for dental dams is very high right now. However she thinks it only makes sense to hand them out if condoms are being handed out, so that students aren’t limited in the range of sexual activities they can do safely.

“People are going to do what they’re going to do, regardless,” she says, and supports any efforts to keep students safer.

Toth says since they started offering dental dams, four have been taken. She hopes with awareness campaigns and more exposure, all students will know they can get them for free.

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This is wonderful! It is also possible to make dental dams out of condoms by simply unraveling the condom, snipping the end off, and cutting it lengthwise. Keep up the good work :)

Posted by Halifeminist | Feb 8, 2022