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Unsafe sexual practices are the primary means for spreading sexually transmitted diseases (STDs; see page 180). Practicing safer sex not only protects your health but also the health of your partner (or future partners), as well as the health of any children you may have in the future (some STDs can be passed from a woman to a fetus and cause birth defects).

Condom use by American teenagers appears to be decreasing. For many adolescent males, as their sexual activity increases with age, their condom use decreases. This decrease in condom use may reflect one or both of the partners' primary concern with avoiding pregnancy rather than preventing the spread of STDs. As these males age, they tend to switch from reliance on condoms to use of female contraceptive methods, especially oral contraceptives (the pill). And because their level of sexual activity increases at the same time, they run a much greater risk of contracting HIV and other STDs. The young man may have one steady girlfriend who takes the pill, but he also may have sex with other partners. Unmarried males of all ages are much more likely than females to have multiple sexual partners and therefore are more likely to be exposed to STDs.

Safer sex requires taking precautions. The only guarantee against STDs is to refrain from sexual contact. If you are planning to have sexual intercourse, discuss safer sex practices with your partner—well in advance, if possible. Although you may feel uncomfortable talking about such issues with a potential sexual partner, don't let embarrassment stand in the way of your health and safety. For more information about safer sex practices, see page 181.

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