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 "Sexually Transmitted Diseases"

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Well, let's go to the mail bag and see what we've got.

My girlfriend has a yeast infection. What is it, exactly, and is there any way I can catch it?

While a yeast infection sounds like an STD you might get from the Pillsbury Doughboy, itís actually a common female ailment, though not as common as the number of Monistat commercials on Lifetime indicates. Put down that sandwich, and get ready for an excursion to the vagina. Yeast infections are caused by a natural fungus getting out of control in the vagina when the environment becomes favorable, often because of persistent or excessive moisture. Symptoms include itching and burning in and around the vagina, a white discharge that looks like cottage cheese (donít test further), and pain during intercourse. Imagine jock itch, then imagine it inside your body. Like menstruation, this is not a subject to joke with her about.

Still with me? Hereís how this affects you. While you lack what scientists call a "vagina," you can actually get a kind of yeast infection, called thrush, inside your mouth. (If youíre uncircumcised, you can also get an infection under your foreskin). Addition-ally, 12 to 15 percent of men develop a penile rash following contact with a yeast infection, so you might want to hold off while she brings her fungi under control (usually three to seven days).

I sometimes get cold sores on my lip. My new girlfriend claims that if I go down on her, I could give her herpes. Is she insane?

Of course. Oh, you mean about herpes. Suspiciously enough, your girlfriend has a pretty good grasp of STDs. Herpes is a dark family secret: An estimated one of every four Americans has it, and no one talks about it. Herpes comes in two types, conveniently named Type 1, the usual cause of oral herpes (cold sores), and Type 2, which causes the majority of genital herpes. Both have similar symptoms-a periodic outbreak of blistery sores-and both are extremely contagious.

If you get recurrent cold sores, thereís a good chance you have oral herpes. But donít check into a leper colony yet: Seventy to 90 percent of Americans get Type 1 at some point in their lives. Your girlfriend is fine as long as your oral herpes is dormant. But if you yodel down the valley while youíre active, you can give her genital herpes-about 30 percent of all new cases of genital herpes are caused this way. If your situations were reversed, your girlfriend could give you genital herpes by going down on you

A doctor can administer a test to find out whether your sores are caused by Type 1 herpes or by something else, like gingivitis. Unfortunately, thereís no cure for herpes, so youíve got it for life. But look on the bright side: Itís a convenient excuse to stay uptown when the symptoms recur.

Paul Ellis

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