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For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has OK’d a pair of underwear that can be used to prevent STIs during oral sex or oral-anal sex, aka rimming. The thin and stretchy single-use latex panties, called Lorals, have been on the market since 2018 and have been marketed in the past for people who want to feel sensation but also be covered during oral sex.
To get the new FDA clearance for STI prevention, the company had to prove that Lorals were equivalent or an improvement upon the existing dental dam, a little-known latex or polyurethane barrier method that few people use anyway.
“The dental dam is all we have to date for oral sex for women, anal activity, or rimming, and no one is using them,” said Dr. Sheryl Ross, an OB-GYN at Santa Monica Women’s Health. “Nobody even knows what it is. I think it’s like less than 5% [of people] are using dental dams.”
Dental dams sit completely outside of the body and against the vulva, and the CDC says you can make your own by cutting apart a condom. (If you’re buying them, they generally cost $2 to $4 each. Here’s an example of a latex dental dam you can purchase, and there is a brand, Sheer Glyde, that’s FDA approved for STI prevention.)
If nothing else, Lorals seem to be “a lot sexier than dental dams,” Ross said. She hopes that in addition to furthering the conversation around safe sex, this extra layer of protection can be more liberating for people to take control of their STI protection and have less on their mind so that they can enjoy intimacy more.
Lorals are not approved for STI prevention during, or intended to be used for, penetrative sex or fellatio.
How effective are Lorals for STI prevention?
Oral sex can be an underrecognized source of STIs, our experts said. Ross noted that condoms don’t always protect against herpes and HPV and most STI screens won’t check for them without symptoms, so they often take people by surprise.
“We’re also seeing more chlamydia and gonorrhea of the throat, and that’s from oral sex,” she said. “So it does help that you’re not exchanging fluids in any way from oral sex. It’s definitely going to be helpful to prevent transmission of those things.”
Lorals might help prevent STIs because they are easier to use and provide more coverage than existing methods, said Bianca Reid, the training and education director for Illinois Contraceptive Access Now.
“The reality is that external and internal condoms and even dental dams may not fully cover a person’s vulva or their perineum or scrotum and it could be difficult to use correctly,” Reid said. “It could put them in certain ways at risk for STIs including herpes simplex virus or HPV.”
“We had to meet physical requirements like dimensions, thickness, elasticity, strength, and lack of holes,” said Melanie Cristoll, who is the founder and CEO of the company. “Then it had to be tested for compatibility with the human body. So we ran toxicity tests, irritation tests, and sensitization tests.”
They also had to test their packaging to make sure that Lorals were not vulnerable to wear and tear to validate the two-year shelf life. After working with scientists and conducting hundreds of tests, they were able to show that the product passed all FDA requirements.
The company that makes Lorals did not conduct a clinical trial, so neither the FDA nor the company could say exactly how effective they are at blocking STIs in the real world. However, this clearance shows that they are comparable to dental dams. (It’s hard to determine exactly how effective dental dams are; one study said the reason people don’t know is that no one is using them.)
Since they cover both the front and the back, Cristol explained that you’re able to do certain activities with Lorals that you wouldn’t be able to do with direct skin to skin contact, like going from analingus to cunilingus and back again.
“Lorals really provide a way for women to take agency and say, ‘Yes, I want this oral sex. I want rimming,’ and to normalize that and make that part of their sexual conversations, whether they’re using Lorals or not,” she said.
Sexologist and sex therapist Lexx Brown-James agreed that Lorals can have many more applications aside from strictly protecting against STIs. She said she could see them being used by those participating in group sex, who do not want any penetration, or in the kink community.
“I think they’ll be applied in even more creative ways than even I can fathom,” she said.
The new FDA-cleared product is called Lorals for Protection, although they are virtually the same product as the previously marketed Lorals for Comfort and Lorals for Pleasure.