Let me set a scene for you. It’s getting late in the evening, you’ve been kissing for what feels like a week (in a good way), your cheeks are pink and every part of your being feels warm. You’re both ready to jump on the train to orgasm town, stopping aaaaaall the stations. Also in this scene, you both have vaginas.
You reach into your bedside drawer, you grab your lube, your fave dildo/strap on/sex toy of choice. You feel like you’re 100% prepared… but wait… You’ve got condoms, of course, everyone has condoms; they’ll be useful for toys and hands… but what about protection for safe oral sex?
Panic sets in. You really like this person; you want to go down on them, and hey, you wouldn’t mind some cunnilingus time too! Okay, so what’s in your house? Definitely no oral dams, so what else? Cling wrap? A latex glove? Cut up the condoms that you do have in your drawer? Great idea, in theory, but how is your sensual mood going to be after you take scissors to condoms? These incredible questions I’ve written should have pretty obvious answers. We shouldn’t have to take to arts and crafts just to feel safe in our sexual adventures.
“Alright, genius,” I hear you say to me (just pretend you’re saying it). “What are we supposed to do then?”
Well, my sweet, innocent children, you need to get yourself some oral dam! Sounds easy enough, right? However, our dear friend SOCIETY stands in our way as usual.
“Wait, but what is an oral dam, Sarah???”
An oral dam is a thin latex sheet that provides barrier protection between mouth and genitals when performing oral sex on a vulva (or anus!). To use one, you place the oral dam over the vulva and then go about your business as usual! Without protection, there is a higher risk for transmitting or receiving STI’s (Sexually Transmitted Infections), such as genital herpes, chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea (you can get more info here). Oral dams and similar forms of oral protection are not readily available for most, which is a very obvious issue for anyone wishing to engage in safe oral sex, especially when vulvas are involved.
As some of you may be aware, it’s almost a challenge to avoid stumbling across condoms, in chemists, in supermarkets, at your local medical clinic, and don’t get me wrong, this is one of the best things imaginable. However, it’s pretty disheartening to learn that there isn’t the same availability for other forms of protection. This doesn’t come as a surprise though.
For the vast majority of the Australian population, sex education focuses on baby making, STI’s being the devil, and how to use a condom. I questioned people I knew around Australia (and some overseas) about their own personal sexual education, and what they wished they had learned while in school. I had responses from both ends of the spectrum: one person learnt about a couple of forms of contraception, with the best form being abstinence; while another person received a really inclusive education, which included learning about options for LGBTQIA couples, such as using oral dams.
However, for most (myself included) sex education consists of a strong focus on pregnancy/avoiding pregnancy, putting a condom on a banana, learning about the pill, and learning about STI’s. With little to no mention of sex as a form of pleasure or fun, LGBTQIA couples, sex work or porn (the latter being where most find a great extent of their sexual education), and no information on basic consent in a sexual context.
For me, ignoring these elements is extremely problematic for young adults and teenagers. The combination of puberty and high school is difficult enough without educators and the education system ignoring really essential points of sex ed. When I had my first same sex relationship, I had NO idea that STI’s could be transmitted through oral sex. This gap of knowledge exists for many young adults. If you are never taught that a risk is present, and what protection is needed to combat that risk, then a very dangerous mindset is created for people to carry into casual sex, no matter what age you may be.
Contracting an STI certainly isn’t the end of the world nowadays – at least for those with access to healthcare facilities – but it is still an important issue and it seems to have fallen through the cracks of sexual consciousness since the 1980’s. Conversation and education are SO IMPORTANT for maintaining sexual health.
So, fortunately for you, gentle reader, I’ve taken on the dangerous task of seeking oral dams out in the real world: I went on an extensive hunt for readily available oral dams in Melbourne. My searches for oral dams have ended pretty poorly in the past so I put on my ‘I Woke Up Like This’ unicorn socks and embraced the chemists around the city and outer suburbs of Melbourne to find out just how hard it really is to find an oral dam.
My first stop was the chemist at my university campus. After checking the shelves first for any signs of oral dams, I approached the pharmacists on shift. The looks they gave me were questioning, and with raised eyebrows they asked, “oral… dams…?” I may as well have asked if they stocked alien life forms, by the way they reacted. One interaction involved me blatantly saying “it’s for oral sex”, to have the pharmacist direct me to the dental floss on isle 3. A very exciting interaction to say the least.
Most chemists around Melbourne reacted the same, so I went to my favourite sexual health clinic, pretty hopeful that they would know where to buy some or even have some on hand, as they often give out free condom and lube samples. Alas, foiled yet again. The nurse advised that I check at chemists nearby (I informed her that was a no go), and the doctor told me I’d be successful if I looked online. Well they weren’t wrong, there are a few stockists where you can buy oral dams online, and some even advise where they can be purchased in each state, including 5 stockists within Melbourne, all conveniently just outside of the CBD!
The brand stocked within Australia is called Sheer® GLYDE Dams, but they specify pretty strongly that they are not to be confused with dental dams. That’s fine in theory but I bet that if I walked into the chemist and asked for Sheer® GLYDE Dams I would have had an even harder time than what I experienced. To make things even more confusing, sometimes oral dams are called dental dams! But if you have a Google of an actual dental dam… well, damn.
Criticisms aside, GLYDE’s product looks fantastic, the brochure has a funky fresh outlook that is straight out of the 1980’s, and it’s reassuring that you can purchase a much needed form of sexual protection within Australia. Unfortunately, it took me a decent amount of research to find stockists in the first place, and for most people wanting to perform safe oral sex on a vulva or anus, travelling to Richmond, or waiting several days for your Sheer® GLYDE Dams to arrive isn’t really a great option. Moreover, on GLYDE’s website, one of their Melbourne suppliers is for trade workers only, meaning they only supply to sex workers. If the product is important enough for sex work, then it is absolutely important enough for hook ups and casual sex!
My endeavour was feeling pretty grim at this point, so a friend suggested I try my luck at sex shops within the CBD. I first called Twisted Toys, and amazingly they stocked both oral dams and female condoms (a condom that fits inside the vagina, with a wider opening of latex, used to cover the vulva). Unfortunately, the prices were slightly obscene; $25 for 3 female condoms, and $10 for 3 Glyde dams. If you consider that condoms can be acquired for free, this is a pretty hefty price to ensure one’s cunnilingus activity is safe. I next called Club X on Swanston Street (CBD). Their prices were much more reasonable, with 4 dams for $5 or $1.50 each! I also tried Liberated Adult Centres, however they informed me they only sold condoms… Not very ‘liberated’ at all. While I was super impressed with the affordable price of dams at Club X, I’m still frustrated by how difficult it was to find a store that physically stocked them (they’re also not stocked on the Club X website, which isn’t helpful). Plus, sex stores are very intimidating for many people, and your average Joe or Joanna may not be willing to brave their local adult store to buy a few oral dams for their next encounter with a vulva.
So where are we at now? Clearly sexual education and safer sex practices still have an incredibly long way to go. It is both confronting and upsetting to realise just how little we are taught when it comes to looking after others and ourselves in sexual situations. For anyone wishing to pleasure someone who has a vagina, to acquire an oral dam our options are; jumping online ASAP to stock up for any random sexual encounters in the future, or; taking our arts and crafts skills to condoms. Well dam, I just don’t accept that. Supply and demand is a thing in our great capitalist society, so we should be raising awareness and demanding better accessibility to these much needed products. These topics are so important, and if you start the conversations, then we can achieve safer cunnilingus for all involved. It might seem like I’m getting too serious on you at the end here, but hey, I really like orgasms.