This week a Humptown reader asks, "Can you explain the dental dams and nitrile gloves?"
I reached out to Jiz Lee, porn performer and pleasure activist.
"When most of us received sex ed, it was limited to sex being penis-to-vagina and condoms were the only barrier we learned about. But sex is so much more, and so is safety," Lee says. "STIs can be transmitted through many kinds of sexual contact, barriers like condoms as well as gloves and dental dams help cover the bases. Even if you decide not to use them, it's important to at least know they exist and that they're part of a 'safer sex toolkit.'"
When I mention using gloves as part of sex, people have a variety of reactions. A woman in one of my SheBop classes almost fell out of her chair laughing at me. And I get it. Many people's only experience combining gloves and genital touch comes from visits to the doctor's office and unless you've got a medical fetish that might not feel very sexy.
But before you dismiss the idea of gloves for sex, hear me out—gloves are an under-appreciated safer sex supply for reasons you might never have considered. Not only do they help prevent the transmission of STIs and other infections (did you know you can get herpes on your hands?) they also help prevent the transmission of other germs or bacteria. Whether engaging in anal or vaginal play, fingernails can cause micro-tears of delicate tissues and that can increase the risk of infections. In the case of anal play, tears in the rectum can be susceptible to infection from fecal matter.
"Our hands collect so much bacteria and dirt, which can cause bacterial vaginosis or a urinary tract infection," Jiz adds. "Fingernails can be snagged, sharp, or long, or someone may have a cut on their hand. Gloves can cover these things and create a smooth surface for nice slippery lube for any hole. And once you're done, you just toss them in the trash bin and snuggle."
Jiz brings up a fabulous point that many people might not consider—being able to remove gloves gives you a clean slate.
This can be a blessing, whether it's to swap out gloves for another kind of play— moving from anal to vaginal, from one partner to another, or to simply have clean hands before you touch doorknobs or faucet handles. It's especially helpful in a play party environment. You can also use different color gloves to help you keep track of which hand has been in which hole, or which person — a useful trick for multi-person play.
Back in college, before I was introduced to gloves as part of sex I discovered finger cots, which are like tiny condoms you roll onto your finger. My then-boyfriend had them for engaging in anal play. These days I don't usually have finger cots as part of my kit because I prefer to use gloves, but finger cots can be a great option if you want something more subtle than a glove.
As for dental dams, they're most commonly used for performing oral sex on a vulva, but that's not their only use.
"Maybe you're interested in anal rimming, and want to use a dam to avoid contact with feces particles," Jiz says. "Porn stars may have special enema rituals that make a gaping butthole cleaner than a dinner plate, but not everyone has the time or expertise to cleanse themselves thoroughly."
You can get dental dams from sex shops and clinics, as well as online, but you can also make your own. To make one from a condom, you just cut off the tip of the condom and the base of the condom, and then cut along the side so you're left with a rectangular barrier. The CDC website has diagrams to show you how to do this, as well as demonstrating proper dental dam use on a vulva. If you want to get really fancy you can even find harnesses that are specially designed to hold dams in place over the anus or vulva.
If you're not using a harness, one thing to look out for with dental dams is making sure you don't swap sides. This would defeat the purpose of the barrier so you need to make sure that once it's in place, you keep track. A fun way to do this is by labeling one side by writing on it with sharpie. You can get as creative as you like with this, using nicknames or incorporating role play terms.
Another way to make a dental dam is from a latex or nitrile glove. There are a couple different ways to do this but my personal favorite is to cut the glove in a way that preserves the thumb hole so you can use that space for your tongue, which is a great way to play with oral penetration of an anus or vagina while still using a barrier.
When discussing barrier use, it's important to keep in mind the different materials they're made from.
Most barriers are made from latex, but because its fairly common to be allergic to it, you can also find nitrile, polyurethane or polyisoprene. Glycerine-based lubricant also causes a reaction for some. But there are hundreds of kinds of lube on the market and many of them are glycerine-free.
"Whether you like using barriers because it gives you more peace of mind, or because you think snapping on a glove or feeling a tongue sliding circles where the sun don't shine is sexy, barriers are one smart and super hot way to enjoy sex, safely," Jiz says.
And I have to agree.
Have you got a burning question of your own? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and keep your eye out for an answer in an upcoming column!