It’s Not Just for Dentists Anymore, Part I

If you’ve ever had dental work done, it’s possible that your dentist used something called a dental dam, a square of latex used to isolate a tooth. There’s another use for it that you may or may not have heard of. This post might be considered a safer sex lesson, but there is a safer sensuality dimension, and I have to be frank.

Betssy, Does this Dental Dam Make Me Look Fat?, August 10, 2008 by Flickr, Creative Commons 3.0 BY-SA

Betssy, Does this Dental Dam Make Me Look Fat?, August 10, 2008 by Flickr, Creative Commons 3.0 BY-SA

And that requires bringing up a name recently in the news: Michael Douglas. Michael Douglas, who’s been treated for throat cancer, throat cancer caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV. I won’t go into HPV’s connection to cancer; you can read that here.  How you acquire HPV is direct contact with the virus, which is found on the genitals or mouth/tongue where it can move further back into the throat.

So, enough said about that. So you want to be safe, you need a barrier, right? And the right (correct) barrier. Just like with condoms, latex is your best barrier, if treated properly (no storing in heat, use the right lubricant). So many like the taste of their female partner, and if she’s been tested for HPV, the mouth/tongue against her vulva is safe to do. Some partners may be less turned on, or she carries HPV (which may eventually clear from the body; see your physician about retesting). And then there are those turned on by latex. In any of those cases, a dental damn works great. Use a little tasty and appropriate something on the mouth/tongue side and a water-based lubricant, if desired, on the side against the vulva/lips/clit. Hold in place with fingers. Partner’s tongue moves the fluid around–whether added or naturally produced–and if done right, there’s no reason that the pleasure should be any less than without the dam.

Okay, so if you’re a dentist, you’re in luck–you know where to get your supplies of dams. But what about the rest of us? Make your own. Check out this great little explanation on how to turn a regular unlubricated condom into a dental dam. This is a DIY project you can get behind.

And speaking of “behinds,” stay tuned for Part II in the next couple of weeks.

Good Days on the Job

For a time, I worked as a health educator and counselor in a maternal health and family planning clinic at the same time that I did outreach in the field identifying women who were not receiving well women care. [See my posts on my visits to a topless bar or two.] Some days were a challenge, listening to all the difficulties the women in and outside the clinic were having that were difficult to address. There were a few successes I remember in my work. One was a woman who returned to the clinic to let me know that the time we’d spent together six months before, when I counseled her about relationship violence issues, that she had turned her life around. She’d used the numbers and information on leaving an abusive relationship to help her go in a new direction in her life.

A second was a young 15-year-old girl who told me that she didn’t mind if she was pregnant and didn’t need birth control that visit. Rather than lecture her, I asked to think about her child, if she was pregnant, and ask herself if she would want to be her own baby in the life circumstances that she found herself in.  When she went in to see the nurse and found out she wasn’t pregnant, she asked for birth control, though I don’t know what happened to her after her clinic appointment as I didn’t see her again.

But the one woman I remember most, who I did see more than once in the clinic and on outreach, was Veronica (not her real name). I met Veronica in a “tanning salon”—a place on a street filled with sexually oriented businesses that had a broken tanning bed and a towel on the floor for sex with clients. Veronica started by coming in to the clinic to be treated for a sexually transmitted disease and a well woman visit. Returning again several months later, she was disease free and appeared less altered by drugs or alcohol. The third time, a very different Veronica visited the clinic—smiling for the first time and accompanied by a sister. She credited my coworkers and I for helping turn her life around, but I knew we had contributed only slightly, with most of the credit going to Veronica’s family and to Veronica herself.

So even though I sometimes sat out in my car before going into the clinic and had a “moment,” wishing I could do more, I often thoughts of those times of hope and firmly committed myself to doing what I could to make women’s lives better, or be there to support them when they made their own lives better.

Celebrating the Female Anatomy

**A post for the more mature reader**

A recent article in the Huffington Post on the clitoris made me want to write this post to expand upon it a little more.  It’s about a recent art installation that addresses that most misunderstood of the female body, yet, in my mind, the most important. Sure, some women find intercourse pleasurable, and there are some who prefer stimulation of the “g spot” through intercourse, than stimulation of the clitoris. I trust that to be the case if a woman actually has experienced clitoral stimulation hopefully to orgasm.

Although less so than in the past, the problem has often been that women don’t really understand how the clitoris works, and how for most of us, it is the main (although not exclusive) pleasure center of the female body. When a woman tells me that she “thinks” she’s had an orgasm, we discuss clitoral knowledge and certainty: if you’ve really had an orgasm, there’s no doubt what’s happening. That intense feeling is unmistakable.

When I wrote “Song of the Balalaika,” I wrote of a main male character who derives pleasure from bringing his partner to orgasm as creatively as he can. Much of what he does with her is to attempt to “learn” what pleases her, how and where she likes to be touched, how and when to stimulate her clitoris.

This is the reason that I’m adamant about properly naming the female anatomy.  If we keep referring to the external genitalia as the ‘vagina’ instead of ‘vulva’ and ‘labia’ (external and internal), then we confuse the internal organ of the woman, and her main instrument for intercourse, with the place where that premiere organ of arousal and orgasm is nestled. My post on the confusion on Project Runway’s frequent incorrect use of ‘vagina’ is a case in point.

Learning a New Skill: Putting on the Condom

Trojan-CondomsThose who can do. Those who can’t, watch someone else do it. Then if you watch carefully enough, you can actually do it  yourself.

Before I became a sexuality educator, I knew about condoms from using them with a partner. Confession: I always let the man take care of business thinking that putting on a condom required a special skill that only men possessed, given that they possessed the actual organ to be adorned. PluUntil I got into the business of safer sex education, I never knew the finer points of condom use. But in spite of my original hesitancy and confronted by the dawning realization that I would be demonstrating my proficiency in front of groups of strangers, I took on the challenge. (Plus my salary depended on it.)

 If I wanted to succeed, I knew I’d have to get it right my from an expert–my gay boss Kyle. I and a small group of young female college students were treated to the lesson while gathered around his desk, then each one of us had to demonstrate that we’d learned what he taught–on a condom model, to be clear. At first, I didn’t look forward to having an audience watching me awkwardly manage the little roll-down hat, but I pulled it off, or more correctly, put it on exactly the way it’s supposed to be done.

  • Open package; no teeth, as tempting as it is to use them to rip the package open.
  • Remove the condom from package
  • Grasp tip (and implement the tip tip)
  • Place on top
  • Unroll to the bottom; careful with fingernails
  • Enjoy

 To be honest, it took several tries, but in the end I finally got comfortable with it. And if you haven’t tried it, you can, too.

Check out this article on a study showing that condoms don’t diminish pleasure for men.

Product Review 2: Lubricant, and “A Tip About the Tip”

Tip-tipOne of the most basic products for safer sensuality is water-based lubricant. It reduces friction by providing moisture, and because it’s water-based, it does not damage latex. That’s latex condoms, latex dental dams, or latex gloves. Some condoms come with their own lube, and unlubed condoms are useful for performing oral sex on a guy.

Another option is silicone-based lubricants which are also useful and can retain their “slipperiness” longer than water-based lubricants but can also be more difficult to wash off the body and other materials or objects. No matter which you choose, definitely choose one. Research has shown that lubricants can enhance pleasure in relationships, whether or not you have to practice safer sex.
One of the most popular safer sex tips I give is just that: pay attention to the tip. Place a small amount of latex-friendly lubricant into the tip of the condom before placing it on the head of the penis. It returns that “natural” feeling to the condom experience, as many men have told me who tried it. And when a partner places the lubricant on the sensitive head of the penis before placing the condom (an alternative) or the condom on the penis with the lube inside, it’s a nice experience for both partners.

Safer Passion

You know what’s coming because all the signs are there. You’re felling close. You touch, kiss. He whispers words in your ear and you feel his breath against your neck. His hands travel across your skin. You work his shirt away from his body while his fingers pull down the zipper on your dress. And then…

And then what? Have you had the condom talk yet? Is there a condom around? Should you put it on him or watch him put it on himself? Maybe he’s already wearing it (little chance of that).

The heat of the moment. The chance of throwing caution and good sense to the wind and foregoing the condom. Or doing it without the condom or exchanging “fluids.” (Certainly a very sexy option but requiring a lot of good communication and even some interesting accoutrement. ) The latter means worrying and testing or denial. Now that’s no fun.

While safer sex, or as I like to call it, “safer passion,” does require planning, so does a rich and diverse sex life. And spontaneity can be part of the planning. Safer sex can be a drudge or just one more area to explore when being intimate. And for a woman, it can provide an opportunity to truly explore her sexuality.

That’s one of the themes I explore in my blog, and I’d love to learn your ideas about what works and what might work better. Leave your thoughts below, and join the safer sex conversation. Or there will be other opportunities, if you care.

“Let’s hear from our next caller…”

When I began my job as a purveyor of latex and safer sex wisdom, I started as the coordinator of an AIDS hotline. My education started with my first call, “What about BJs?”Cross-dressing

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”


Throat crickets.

“BJs!” Then the caller schooled me in the meaning of that acronym*.

I shared what information I had on HIV transmission and how to prevent it (oral sex is very low risk, still use a condom because, for the recipient, there’s always herpes) and was grateful to finally have gotten through my first question. I hung up.

The second call wasn’t much better. Caller two had picked up a sex worker off the street who turned out not to be one. A woman, that is.

Funny how fast someone not used to talking about sex became comfortable with standing up in front of people and talking about it without blushing. And not only talking but showing how to put on condoms and wear the giant one myself.

More about that later.


*BJ: Oral sex performed on a male, in case you didn’t get the memo that I also missed