Sex in the 90s and Beyond A Cautionary Note

It's a sad fact of life that when we think about sex these days, we have to consider the growing danger of sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. A few decades ago, before STD became the acronym of choice, the biggest sex-related hazard besides getting "PG" was catching VD. Syphilis and gonorrhea were the most common of these venereal diseases, and were curable if caught in time. The freewheeling '70s brought another affliction (that is, besides disco and leisure suits): genital herpes. Herpes, unfortunately, is incurable, although symptoms can be brought under control, and the condition isn't fatal.

ted diseases, or STDs, emphasis AIDS because it is fotsl. But this doein't mean you can afford to Ignore the possibility— or consequences—of other STDs. For example, Hepatitis B is easily spread through sexual contact, and it is on the rise. This disease can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver ■canter. (Hepatitis C is even more insidious; many carriers don't even have symptoms.) And even though herpes, chlamydia, and genitai warts may not pose a death sentence, they can have very serious consequences and adversely affect the neitofyour life fnot to mention put a real damper on sex). In the United States, about million people currently have some sort of sexual Jy transmitted disease, and each year there are about TZ million new cases. Anyone who is considering having se* needs to be aware of STDs. Consult your heaftfi-care practitioner for information on testing.

But then the '80s hit, and with them came ominous reports of a new disease. This one has no cure either, and it is deadly. While recent research has led to life-prolonging drug protocols, an actual cure for AIDS is probably still years away. And I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but if some of the doomsaying experts are correct, we can look forward in the future to the rise of more STDs, as yet unnamed.

All the more reason, then, to exercise both cautio2 30 candor with your potential partner. If things are really beginning to heat up between the two of you, now is the time to stop, look, and consider the following:

Heart Brakes

Most discussions of sexually tranjmit-

Heart Brakes

Most discussions of sexually tranjmit-

• Have you discussed AIDS and other STDs to your mutual satisfaction? Given all of the hazards we've just discussed, I'm astonished that so many couples don't talk to each other about STDs. You might think this problem is restricted to younger people, who traditionally behave as if they don't take their own mortality seriously. But many older couples are reluctant to face this issue, as well. Some are simply embarrassed, in which case I tell them, "If you're embarrassed to talk about safe sex with someone, why do you feel at ease having sex with that person?" Some people say they're afraid of offending the other person by even implying the person might be diseased. Since there has been such intense publicity about these diseases, I'd venture to guess that your partner is as concerned about this issue as you, and will actually be grateful you brought it up. And for those who are offended by this subject, I offer the reminder that even the so-called "nicest" people can and do get AIDS and other STDs. Still other people have told me that they don't get into safe-sex discussions because, they rationalize, their partner isn't the promiscuous type. To these people, I say, "Okay, maybe your partner hasn't been promiscuous. Maybe he or she has only had one sexual partner before you. But what if the first partner was promiscuous, or was an intravenous drug user?" The bottom line is, you can't let embarrassment, fear of awkwardness, or mistaken assumptions prevent you from looking out for your health. Don't enter into a sexual relationship with someone until you feel safe about this issue.

• Have you each been tested for STDs, particularly for HIV? HIV, or Human Immuno-deficiency Virus, is the virus that causes AIDS. There are a number of facilities that provide tests for HIV. The cost varies, depending upon whether it is a private clinic or a publicly funded facility. Call your local health department for more information. If you're particularly worried about confidentiality, there is an over-the-counter home HIV test available now for about $50.00.

Even so, most experts recommend that HIV testing be supplemented by counseling, particularly if the test results are positive. Remember, though, even a negative test doesn't necessarily mean that you're home free. Almost all people develop HIV antibodies within three months of infection, but with some people, it can take up to six months. If you engaged in behavior that can transmit the virus during the six months just before your test, you may be infected but still test negative because your body may not yet have produced antibodies. To be sure, you must be retested at least six months after you last engaged in behavior that can transmit HIV.

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A positive HJV test result does not necessarily mean you have AIDS at that point, tut it does mean you will most finely develop AIDS.

A negative result simply means that no H|V antibodies were found in your blood, which usually means you arc not infected. Even so, this does not mean you are immune to HIV; nobody is. You still need to practice safe sex.

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A positive HJV test result does not necessarily mean you have AIDS at that point, tut it does mean you will most finely develop AIDS.

A negative result simply means that no H|V antibodies were found in your blood, which usually means you arc not infected. Even so, this does not mean you are immune to HIV; nobody is. You still need to practice safe sex.

• Have you decided on the logistics of safe sex between the two of you? Condoms are often lauded as the best defense against STDs, but they are not foolproof. It's true that latex condoms do offer a measure of protection. Even so, condoms can break. Furthermore, some people are allergic to latex or the spermicides that come with certain types of condoms. I can't specifically recommend any one method; I can only advise you to discuss all safe-sex issues with each other and, if necessary, with a health-care professional. That way, you can come up with a mutually agreeable protection plan.

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Condoms are not necessarily the sevual answer to a suit ofantior. They can slip offr break, or even lose their effectiveness if they are part the expiration date On the package (¿fmsys check thijJ. In addition, studies have shown that the AIDS virus can penetrate condoms made of lambskin.

Besides having a frank dialogue with your partner, I recommend that you stay as informed as you possibly can about these matters. Keep yourself current on the latest health reports in the media. (The Internet is a wonderful information source for up-to-date health matters.) There's plenty of information on safe sex out there, so educate yourself, and discuss it with your partner before you get caught up in the heat of passion.

Remember, if you don't feel comfortable discussing these topics with your partner, you might want to question why you do feel comfortable having sex with this person. And if you're worried that all this planning will somehow diminish the experience, it won't. On the contrary, the realization that the two of you are looking out for each other's welfare will make the seduction all that much sweeter.

Continue reading here: When More Than Your Imagination Is Fertile

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