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Our discussion of forms of sexual expression identified several sexual lifestyle options that are available to adults. Within this context, the process of achieving sexual maturity continues in adulthood. One task in this life stage is learning to communicate effectively with partners in intimate relationships. A second task is developing the ability to make informed decisions about reproduction and prevention of sexually transmitted infections.
Responsible Sexual Behavior Some adults engage in sexual activities that involve risks to their physical health, such as STIs and HIV infection. Examples of such behaviors include engaging in vaginal or anal intercourse without using condoms, engaging in sexual activity with casual partners, and engaging in sexual activity with multiple partners. In many countries, there has been substantial publicity about these risks and the implementation of programs designed to promote safer sex.
Have adults changed their sexual behavior in response to these health risks? In the United States, a review of three surveys conducted in 1990, 1992, and 1996, with representative samples of heterosexual men and women ages 18 to 49, found a significant increase in condom use (Catania, et al., 2001). The largest increases were among African Americans and Hispanics. In the decade from 1985 to 1995, gay men showed substantial behavior change. Many gay men reduced the number of their sexual partners, had fewer anonymous sexual encounters, and engaged in anal intercourse less frequently or used condoms. Several studies suggest that some men and women who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS become celibate (Siegel & Scrimshaw, 2003). This reduces the likelihood of transmission to uninfected persons. In spite of these positive changes, the number of new cases of HIV infection and AIDS per year remains large.
Sexual transitions Another challenge facing adults, particularly those who have chosen to enter long-term dyadic relationships, is the changes most will eventually experience. These