Were it not for the three queer women who accosted him at a sexual health conference in Canberra, Australia, Clive Woodworth likely wouldn’t remember the 1993 conference at all. As the founder and CEO of Glyde Health, Woodworth attended these events to promote the company’s safe-sex products; because this conference was geared toward empowering women, it was an ideal forum to promulgate the company’s newly coined condom slogan: “If it ain’t on, it ain’t on.” But when the women approached Woodworth with a special request, the gathering suddenly took on a bigger meaning. Because, according to him, it marked the moment the dental dam was reborn.

Originally devised for use during dental procedures, the dams are used to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) acquired through vaginal or anal licking. And even though most adults are aware of the dam’s existence — especially queer women, to whom the products are aggressively marketed — mentioning this particular latex product is more likely to elicit squirming or lewd comments than its penile counterpart, the condom.

That awkwardness may be linked to the apparent unpopularity of the product. A 2010 Australian study of 330 women, for example, states that 9.7 percent of queer women — defined as women who have sex with women — use dental dams during oral sex, and only 2.1 percent do so regularly. And research on dam use among heterosexuals and gay men (trans- and cisgender alike) is practically non-existent, which is either an indication of the dam’s unpopularity, or its inability to attract the attention of scientists and funding agencies.

“Their concerns were that there was nothing for women, particularly for lesbian woman who wanted to perform sexual acts on each other,” Woodworth recalls of the 1993 trio, “other than cut-up condoms, or what you Americans refer to as ‘Saran wrap.’” They were also dissatisfied substituting with dams that dentists used, because they were “too small, too thick, and not very sensual.” These women, Woodworth says, were “understandably annoyed.”

After the encounter, Woodworth set out to design a better dental dam, one larger and thinner than those used by dentists. In 1994, the first Sheer Glyde Dams hit the Australian market — one year before Line One Laboratories, a US-based condom company, completed its own version. “I went to the dentist and he put a dental dam into my mouth,” says Budiman Lee, founder of Line One Laboratories. “And because I had been making condoms since 1990, I thought you could come up with a bigger condom shape and cut it into a square” that could be used for oral sex.