Oral sex isn’t generally a topic that comes up super frequently among my circle of friends. But when Lorals, “the revolutionary lingerie that helps you say yes to oral sex” (AKA, thin, stretchy, vanilla-flavored latex underwear for women that promises to block out tastes, smells and fluids during cunnilingus) started following MEL on Twitter, I had to know: Are my peers equally weirded out by what is basically a dental dam in panty form?
“Why would I want to lick latex?” is one of the milder responses I receive, which range from genuinely perplexed to downright offended. “Oral sex with latex on is like getting a massage in a snowsuit,” offers another male friend, who complains that Lorals would turn a sexual experience into something akin to a gynecological procedure.
I also interrogate my husband one morning before work. “It would be like going to a bar, and the girl who’s hitting on you is wearing a mask,” he says. “What’s going on behind there? It would make me very suspicious.”
“Why is a girl hitting on you at a bar?” I reply.
Almost every woman I poll finds the very idea of smell- and taste-blocking underwear insulting. “It’s ridiculously misogynistic and prudish, if not borderline sex-negative,” says one. “If someone doesn’t want to taste and smell my pussy when they’re eating me out, I don’t want them pretending through a latex contraption. Don’t bother.” Another female friend asks, “WTF is sex without the adventure of tastes, smells and fluids?”
With this in mind, I head to the source — entrepreneur and Lorals CEO Melanie Cristol — for answers. Formerly a corporate lawyer, Cristol was on her honeymoon when the idea for Lorals was conceived. “There I was on this really romantic vacation with my wife, trying to make the most of the experience, and when it came to receiving oral sex, I found myself saying no,” she says. “I was like, this is such a pity. I’m on my honeymoon, I’m supposed to be experiencing the ultimate in ecstacy, and I’m saying no because I feel uncomfortable. That made me realize how often we deny ourselves amazing pleasures.”
This got her thinking about all the reasons women turn down oral sex — a fear of STDs, menstruation, paranoia about taste or scent or “not having showered in a few days” — and what a solution might look like. Dental dams (latex sheets that act as a barrier between the mouth and the vagina or anus) have been co-opted for oral sex in the last few decades for just this purpose, but the product was actually designed in 1864 for (you guessed it) dental procedures. And while the HIV epidemic of the 1980s prompted some people to use dental dams as STD protection, the deeply unsexy device never really took off.
“When I was in college, dental dams were a complete laughing stock,” says Cristol. “People would say, ‘Sure, you could use a dental dam, PERHAPS,’ but with a wink-wink. It wasn’t a product that people took seriously.” For one thing, dental dams need to be held in place by either the giver or the receiver during oral sex. “If you’re the designated holder, you have to make sure that it stays in place, that it’s not being turned over, and that it’s not moving from the anus to the vagina, which can cause UTIs,” she says. “It’s also floppy and loose, which means it can move around on the giver’s mouth, go up their nostrils and cause gagging or loss of breath. There are lots of things you have to think about other than just giving or receiving pleasure.”
Lorals, meanwhile, are hands-free and stay in place during oral sex and finger penetration. They come in two styles (bikini and boy shorts), fit sizes 0 through 14, taste like vanilla (“the least offensive flavor”) and are designed to look as enticing as lingerie. But — and it’s a big but — Lorals can’t be marketed as a safe alternative to dental dams until the company secures FDA approval, a lengthy and costly process that would involve making new machinery to test every single pair of panties to ensure that microscopic STD particles can’t get through. Still, Cristol is hopeful that Lorals will be FDA-approved sometime in 2019.
Even without it, the company is already poised for success: The crowdfunding campaign Cristol launched in March reached its goal of $20,000 in just a week, and the first orders will ship in August, with a four-pack selling for $26.
But the real question here is, who’s buying them (since it’s clearly not any of my friends)? “We’re marketing mainly toward women who are in long-term relationships and who’ve found themselves getting into a pattern of having certain kinds of sex with their partner,” says Cristol. “That’s often vaginal intercourse because it has — forgive the term — zero barriers to entry. It becomes the default. We’re trying to change this pattern and to make it easier for them to say yes to oral sex,” she says.
And though they’ve yet to launch officially, Lorals have already had a positive impact on Cristol’s own sex life. “I find myself wanting to use the product a lot, like when my wife has just gone to the gym and she’s turned on but doesn’t want to hop in the shower and feel less turned on,” she says. “In my relationship, it allows us to say yes more often. Lorals is much broader than just a dental dam reinvention. It could help women in so many ways.”
I still can’t quite fathom how purchasing vanilla-flavoured latex underwear is easier than simply keeping up basic personal hygiene, but hey, to each her own.