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Sex Ed for the Suddenly Single

Experts help the newly single cope with changing sexual attitudes.

Brace for Culture Shock continued...

It may not have been left out mistakenly. Your friend may be intending to use it with you.

"People should just get friendly with the idea," Queen says.

Another taboo that's now more comfortably discussed is anal sex. In the 1980s, with the spread of AIDS, it became necessary for the media and government to talk about anal sex publicly. All the talk about the practice stirred up interest in it.

Certainly plenty of couples, gay and straight, have always indulged. If, however, anal activity was never part of your sex life in the past, don't be shocked if a new partner offers or requests it.

Testing for AIDS

"Before having sex with a new partner, it is your responsibility to know what you've got. Do not assume you're fine," Paget says.

At the very least, you should know your HIV status. Perhaps you and your previous partner got tested together 10 years ago. Or maybe you were in a monogamous relationship years before the HIV/AIDS pandemic struck. Even if that's the case, it is best to know your current status for certain.

Ask your new partner to get tested if he or she hasn't been recently. Being older or heterosexual doesn't mean you are not at risk. Most women with HIV get it through heterosexual contact. And in the year 2003 alone -- the latest year for which data from the CDC are available -- nearly 13,000 people aged 45-64 were diagnosed with AIDS in the U.S.

Home test kits are available at pharmacies. You take a blood sample from a finger stick and send it to a lab. You call a toll-free number for the result, and the process is completely anonymous. You can also go to a clinic to be tested for HIV and other STDs.

To find nearby testing locations, enter your ZIP code at www.hivtest.org, a referral service run by the CDC.

In addition to HIV, it's a good idea to get tested for:

  • Chlamydia
  • Genital herpes
  • Gonorrhea
  • Syphilis

These sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) don't always cause symptoms, so you may not know you're infected.

Safe Sex

Using a latex condom every time you have sex is the best way to protect yourself. That includes oral sex.

Many people balk at using condoms on the penis or a latex barrier (sometimes called a "dental dam") over the vulva for oral sex. But you can get or spread STDs if you don't. For example, herpes viruses can pass from the lips to the genitals, and vice versa.

The CDC estimates that one in five adolescents and adults in the U.S. has genital herpes.

Anyone intending to be sexually active should buy a box of condoms and keep it in the bedroom. If you go out and think you might go home with someone, take along a condom. Just don't make the mistake of keeping one in your wallet, which over time breaks down the latex, or the bottom of your purse, where it might get holes poked in it.

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