Dam. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just cleared a new alternative to dental dams when it comes to protecting yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STI) during oral sex. And the alternative is a bit vanilla. It’s vanilla-scented underwear from Lorals that’s supposed to serve as a barrier between your mouth and the other person’s naughty bits.
Here’s an Instagram post from the company announcing the FDA clearance:
The specific product is Lorals for Protection, which comes in both bikini and “shortie” styles. A pack of four individually-packaged undies would cost $25 plus shipping and handling, which would be around the cost of two head massagers, the complete Cards Against Humanity set, two Venus fly traps, or a cast iron skillet. While having protection doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing comfort or pleasure, keep in mind that the Lorals for Protection product is distinctly different from the company’s Lorals for Comfort and Lorals for Pleasure products, as these latter two are not designed to protect against STIs. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to pay close attention to the packaging and labeling to make sure that a particular is actually FDA approved and cleared to serve as barrier protection.
Of course, many things could serve as a barrier between your mouth and another person’s naughty bits such as a brick wall, a frying pan, or a suit of armor. Oral sex entails using your mouth, tongue, or lips to stimulate a person’s vulva (otherwise known as cunnilingus), penis (otherwise known as fellatio), or anus (otherwise known as rimming). Anything else such as a podium in the bedroom or a very alluring Power Point presentation probably doesn’t qualify as oral sex. Therefore, to facilitate oral sex, the underwear material needs to be thin enough to allow adequate stimulation while at the same time impermeable enough to prevent actual direct physical contact with or the leakage of fluids from the bits. During oral sex, this underwear could help the wearer’s crotch to be a bit like Las Vegas. What happens in the crotch needs to stay in the crotch.
The Lorals website does describe the underwear as “ultra-thin & stretchy,” which would be better than “thick & stiff like a parka,” at least when it comes to STI prevention during oral sex. Lorals for Protection wouldn’t be the type of underwear to wear outdoors in subzero weather to keep your genitals nice and toasty because the “Protection” wouldn’t extend to inclement weather or an out-of-control bobsled.
Instead, these underwear are more like dam or more like a condom. They are supposed to block the transmission of nasty pathogens such as herpes viruses and the bacteria that cause gonorrhea and syphilis. And similar to condoms and dental dams, these underwear are designed to be single-use only. In this case, single-use doesn’t mean specifically for people who aren’t married. Believe it or not, married people do have oral sex too. Rather single-use means that the pair of underwear should be discarded once they’ve been used. This is important to remember since you may not be in the habit of throwing out your underwear every day.
The journey of these underwear to FDA-clearance has been relatively brief, so to speak, at least compared to the paths of other new products that have had to go through extensive human clinical trials. These underwear were able to skip such clinical trials as they would serve similar functions to that of condoms and dental dams that are already cleared by the FDA. Plus, the concept of wearing underwear is not exactly new either. It’s not as if FDA officials would say something like, “what is this underwear thing that you talk of” or “so is this supposed to go on your head?” When a new product is very similar to existing products that are already on the market, a company may opt to simply prove equivalence, meaning that the company provides convincing-enough evidence that this product is relatively equivalent to already approved products. In the case of the Lorals for Protection, that entailed showing that the underwear has physical characteristics such as thickness, elasticity, and strength comparable to condoms and dental dams, as Pam Belluck reported for the New York Times.
This product is a reminder that oral sex without barrier protection ain’t safe sex. Safe sex doesn’t just mean avoiding pregnancy or a frying pan to the face. Remember that STI-causing pathogens can hang out in or on variety of body parts including one’s genitals, anus, lips, mouth, and throat. And someone can have be infectious without even showing any symptoms. So just because a person claims on a Tinder profile to go rock-climbing every day and “looks completely clean” doesn’t mean that you can’t get chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes human papillomavirus (HPV), trichomoniasis, hepatitis, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or other STIs via oral sex with that person.
The only way to tell whether a person is not infected with any STI-causing pathogens is either through actual testing or knowing exactly what that person has done each and every day since having sex for the first time. And since your aren’t Facebook and can’t follow a person’s every move surreptitiously, sharing super-recent laboratory test results directly is the only way of providing any real assurances that you are STI-free when you aren’t already in a committed monogamous relationship together. In other words, the only reliable oral test would be laboratory tests.
When you aren’t sure that both of you (or all of you, depending on what you are into) are STI-free, it’s a good idea to use some type of FDA-approved or cleared barrier protection to significantly reduce your risk of getting or passing along an STI. So is getting fully vaccinated against STI like HPV and Hepatitis A and B. Also, be wary of anything that looks like a rash, sore, pustule, lesion, or unexplained skin formation. When you see anything like this, you may want to postpone the oral and instead have a nice dinner at a good restaurant.
Be honest and upfront in communicating with each other about possible STI risk before engaging in oral sex. Remember to inspect each other’s mouths and private parts before engaging in oral sex. Whether you are at a restaurant or in the bedroom, never let anything into your mouth without looking at it first. While “inspect” may not be the sexiest word around, you can always work it into the romance. For example, you can role play and say, “I’ll be the microscope and your be the Petri dish.” You can play “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” by Outkast while doing so to set the mood too. Oh, and don’t floss, brush your teeth, get a tongue piercing, chew on thumbtacks, or do anything that may leave cuts around or inside your mouth prior to oral sex. Such cuts even when they aren’t visible could be the break that STI pathogens are looking for to enter.
These new Lorals for Protection underwear do offer a potentially sexier alternative to dental dams. Dental dams may not exactly scream out “hot dam” during sex, unless you happen to be into the thinly-sliced-lunch-meat-on-face look. And while male condoms can serve as barrier protection during oral sex, they do have one stiff requirement to work as protection. Remember fellatio ain’t the only type of oral sex out there no matter what you try to tell your significant other.
Oral sex may not be something that you talk about on a daily basis. But the reality is that many, many people regularly use various types of oral sex to get down. Therefore, it does make sense, and dollars and cents, to find new ways to make oral sex safer and sexy at the same time.