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Sex Ed for the Suddenly Single

Experts help the newly single cope with changing sexual attitudes.
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WebMD Feature

Jilted, bereaved, liberated, or just moving on, every year millions of men and women say goodbye to a long-term relationship -- often one they had been committed to for decades. For the newly single, starting to have sex with new partners can be fraught with hazards.

You maybe in for the time of your life, but you also face issues that probably haven't crossed your mind in a long time: disease risks, pregnancy risks, and the risk of embarrassment.

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Remember all that? Welcome back.

Relearning the Ropes

There's no point in worrying you might catch something if you don't make a move on someone. Even if you were a smooth seducer way back when, you have to dust off your knowledge of how to initiate sex with someone else.

"Couples develop their own shorthand about almost everything," says Carol Queen, PhD, a sex educator and director of continuing education at Good Vibrations, the San Francisco sex-toy emporium.

You're used to communicating in the sexual shorthand of your old relationship. A certain look, phrase, or touch meant that sex was a go, or clearly meant no. When it comes to initiating sex with a new partner, you have to watch carefully for signals that things are headed that way.

What's more, prepare yourself for surprises once you get there.

"We come to think we know what sex means," Queen tells WebMD.

But you only know what sex means to you, and it's a definition you developed over many years with one person. Maybe to you sex is slow and tender, whereas for your new partner, it's loud and athletic. The differences can range from slight to vast, but there will be differences.

"Being with a new person is like learning to play a new instrument," Lou Paget, a sex educator and author of books such as The Great Lover Playbook and Hot Mamas, tells WebMD

Brace for Culture Shock

During the years that you were out of circulation, you may not have registered some of the changes in people's attitudes about sex.

Yes, many people were sexually free back in the '70s. But Queen says she thinks even then, sex tended to center on men's pleasure. Over the past few decades, women's pleasure has moved closer to center stage. Thirty years ago, a man might have prided himself on knowing where the clitoris was located. Now he's got to be an expert on what to do with it.

"Women expect men to have an awareness of how to please her," Paget says.

Vibrators and other sex toys have recently gained much more widespread use and acceptance.

"Somebody who has been in a monogamous relationship with no sex toys anywhere might go to somebody's house and see a sex toy on the bedside table," Queen says.

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