National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles: Aids 'is something you talk about afterwards': Esther Oxford asked five people how their lives have been affected by the safe sex culture

Typist, female, 23, lives in London.

I HAD three partners before meeting my present boyfriend, J. I used a condom with my previous partners but not because I was scared of Aids; getting pregnant was my greatest fear.

Aids only became an issue with me in the first few months of our relationship. The first time we slept together I didn't use a condom; he took me by surprise. It was only after that when I started thinking. I quizzed J ruthlessly about his past girlfriends. I thought about asking him to have an Aids test and having one myself just to be sure, but we didn't in the end. I think I believed him when he told me that the risk was very low. Now Aids is not an issue at all, but we have always been faithful to each other.

Sex is important to me in our relationship. I wouldn't feel involved without it. We have sex about three or four times a week. We have it in bed mostly - our flat is freezing. If it was warmer we would probably be more adventurous.

I have fantasised about having sex with another partner but if it came to the crunch I don't think I would. I have invested too much in J.

Writer, male, 40, lives in London.

AIDS has meant a return to the condom sex we had before the Pill was introduced. Now I say 'No' more than I say 'Yes'.

I have had about 200 sexual partners, most of them during my early twenties. Six of them were homosexual experiments. I have found that in the last few years Aids has made me less inclined to admit to having had homosexual relations. I find that the shutters slam up - understandably. But if someone asks me directly I don't lie about it.

I don't always wear a condom when I have sex. I know that is no excuse and I always feel ridiculous afterwards and usually offer up a little prayer that we will both be OK. Failing to use a condom is usually circumstantial: I'm usually too excited. But it is mismanagement too. I have a son as a result of one such episode.

I must admit to being alarmed at my generation's ignorance about safe sex. We pretend Aids doesn't exist while having sex and then roll over and talk about it afterwards. I have never gone without sex for more than a year. Sometimes it is just a one-night stand - I find they do wonders for my self-esteem.

Actor, male, 24, lives in Sheffield.

I'VE HAD 'everything except penetrative sex' with about 30 women and 'full sex' with eight women. I was attracted to all of them but chose not to have intercourse because I was scared of getting Aids, and because Aids has conditioned me to associate full sex with commitment.

I have been with my present girlfriend for almost two years. We were together for three months before we had full sex. At first we just slept together, then we groped a bit, then we had oral sex, then full sex but always with a condom.

A couple of times the condom has split, which made me realise there is no such thing as safe sex, only safer sex. I actually prefer the female condom.

At the moment I have sex with my girlfriend about five or six times a week. There is a danger that sex can become routine, so both partners need to make a positive effort to keep sex exciting in a long-term relationship: different locations and positions help, and you must have fantasies about the other person.

Nothing is taboo as far as heterosexual sex is concerned. I have had sex with a man but it didn't really turn me on.

Jobless homosexual male, 24, from London.

BEFORE I became aware of Aids I had penetrative sex with an older man in Israel. We did not use condoms; he didn't want to.

Since then I have had penetrative sex with 12 people, male and female. Three years ago I had two Aids tests. Since then I have had unsafe sex with three other people, one of whom is my present partner.

My partner was a virgin when I met him and I consider myself to be pretty safe, having tested negative for HIV, so we don't bother with condoms.

Recently we have been thinking about opening the boundaries of our relationship and inviting friends and other couples to have shared sex with us.

Now that the safe sex message has been driven home we have decided to join the general move back to promiscuity and enjoy group sex but with a sense of responsibility.

I have been on the gay scene in London for two years now and I've noticed that clubs are becoming more eroticised. Now the message about safe sex has sunken in the emphasis is back to having a good time. The fear has been taken away. Already some clubs are re-introducing 'back rooms' where everyone knows that the whole point is to have group sex.

Civil servant, female, 23, lives in Glasgow.

I HAVE been sexually active for seven years. For the first four years I was in a monogamous relationship. I knew about Aids but didn't worry too much: I was a virgin; he hadn't slept with anyone for four years. So I went on the Pill.

I have slept with 11 men since that relationship finished and the Aids crisis started. I don't let Aids hold me back but I try to use a condom.

I notice the onus is usually on me to bring the subject up. But I have been known in moments of passion to have intercourse without a condom.

I actually prefer to use the female condom now. It doesn't smell, taste, you don't have to worry about getting it on your hands, it is not greasy, you can put it in yourself, it feels better and you don't have to withdraw after ejaculation - it is really nice.

When I am single I don't mind masturbating. This week I have masturbated about five or six times. The chair at work makes me particularly horny: if you lean forwards it bounces up and down.

I have felt sexually attracted to women, but circumstances have stopped me from doing anything about it. Aids is not a fear there - lesbian sex is probably the safest sex you can have. I don't have any absolute no-go areas in sex.

(Photograph omitted)

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