For more than a decade, dental dams have been distributed to protect female inmates against HIV and STDs in some Canadian and Australian prisons. The authors noted, "However, we do not know whether they serve any useful public health purpose." They undertook the current study to learn how the products are used in women's prisons in New South Wales (NSW), using quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate women's sexual practices.
Of 199 female inmates interviewed, 71 (36 percent) reported having sex with another inmate. Most encounters involved oral sex, yet only eight women (4 percent) reported ever having used a dental dam.
Among the inmates, the main sources of STD risk were oral sex, manual sex, and sharing dildos. In addition, sharing razors could result in the transmission of blood-borne viruses, which also could occur during sex in the presence of cuts or menstrual fluid. High rates of hepatitis B and C among incarcerated women compound this risk, the authors wrote.
The results of the study indicate that dental dams are not commonly used by female inmates, "and we question their utility in women's prisons," the authors concluded. "Oral sex is an important risk factor of acquisition of herpes simplex virus type 1, but most women in NSW prisons (89 percent) are already infected. Condoms and latex gloves may have more use. Condoms could be used as a barrier on shared dildos and sex toys, while latex gloves could be used to protect cut and grazed hands from vaginal and menstrual fluids."