Student-led initiative expands dental dam access

Dental dams, which protect against sexually transmitted infections, will be more available in residence halls due to the advocacy of a group within NYU’s Amnesty International chapter.


Manasa Gudavalli

Dental dams will soon become more accessible on NYU’s campus following efforts by the Amnesty International sexual reproductive rights working group at NYU. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

Nicole Chiarella, Staff Writer

Dental dams will become more available across campus and in residence halls in the coming weeks. The initiative was piloted by Amnesty International’s sexual reproductive rights working group at NYU, which sought to provide dental dams — thin latex sheets that can be used during oral sex to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections — in every location where condoms are currently dispensed.

“When we started looking into it, the lack of equality in access to safer sex across all the genders and sexualities at NYU became something that was really jarring and hard to ignore,” Ana Stanek, a CAS and Wagner junior and leader of the working group, said.

NYU spokesperson Shonna Keogan said that NYU has previously provided dental dams for its students, but that students have called for greater accessibility. Dental dams have previously been available upon request in residence hall resource centers and easily accessible at NYU’s LGBTQ+ Center and the Student Health Center.

“Our Student Health Center has been working to expand access to dental dams both at the SHC and as part of the supplies distributed across campus and to the residence halls,” Keogan wrote to WSN. “Unfortunately, due to global supply chain issues, our recent orders have been delayed. We have [now] received additional supplies of dental dams and are working to ensure they’re made available at all residence halls.”

During the fall 2021 semester, members of Amnesty International spent several months conducting research and polling NYU students to gauge their interest in the project. The group contacted student organizations to secure support and demonstrated need to the NYU administration and looked at other universities’ offerings and initiatives for guidance. 

Dental dams are not widely available at other New York City universities. The New School offers free condoms and emergency contraception at its Student Health Services facility, but does not provide dental dams. Columbia University has several locations on its campus for students to access sexual health resources like condoms and lubricant, but only two provide dental dams. 

Danielle Ompad, a professor of epidemiology in NYU’s School of Global Public Health, said that dental dams can help protect students who are sexually active or have multiple partners. 

“It’s important not just for college students, but for anybody who is engaging in those behaviors with perhaps more than one person and they’re not in a monogamous relationship, or they’re uncertain of whether their partner has other partners,” Ompad said. “Kudos to NYU for deciding to do it now at least. If any student could benefit from using dental dams, have at it, and have fun with it.”

Keogan said that NYU has resources to increase awareness and education surrounding sexual health, including information on how to use dental dams and a step-by-step guide on how to create one. The Student Health Center also offers information about sexually transmitted infections, free HIV testing and counseling resources and confidential online access to a sexual health educator.

Stanek said that NYU’s administration was receptive to the group’s proposal. She hopes the new initiative will serve to minimize gaps that she has noticed between sexual health resources offered to students of different genders and sexualities. 

Contact Nicole Chiarella at [email protected].