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The Advocates: Dangerous Liaisons


A little bit of realism may be unsafe when it comes to sex toys

Sex toys have evolved in recent years -- some into more discreet shapes, looking more like pop art (less embarrassing if discovered at airport security?), and others into more naturalistic devices, many of which are made from jelly rubber, a substance that feels more like flesh. I can understand why these jelly rubber toys are so popular--who's going to turn away from something that not only feels more lifelike but also comes at a more reasonable price than other toys? But what you won't read on the packaging is that these jelly devices are made with phthalates, a chemical compound found in PVC flooring and shower curtains and shown to cause damage to people's livers, lungs, kidneys, brains, and testes. In fact, phthalates are believed to be so harmful that in 2008, Congress banned the sale of children's toys and baby products that contain more than 0.1% of certain phthalates. So play safely -- stay away from jelly rubber sex toys and opt for silicone, hard plastic, glass, or metal.

Cut It Out
Circumcision doesn't protect gays from HIV
When several 2007 studies indicated that circumcision could cut in half the risk men face of contracting HIV, various groups -- including UNAIDS and WHO -- began promoting the snip as a viable strategy for reducing the spread of the virus. But new research out this year concludes that losing foreskin is less likely to protect gay men, who still account for half the new cases of HIV in the U.S. each year. In unprotected vaginal intercourse, men can contract the virus through the inner foreskin's mucous membrane, and by eliminating that membrane through circumcision, transmission to men is reduced. That effect isn't parallel during anal sex, which is generally rougher on the body's tissues and can cause microtears, foreskin or no foreskin. The variance in HIV transmission rates for circumcised and uncircumcised men who have sex with men is statistically insignificant; in other words, it makes no difference in gay men if you're cut or uncut. Your best protection is still to practice safe sex.

Let Your Light Shine
Catching some rays can curtail Seasonal Affective Disorder
The holiday season stirs up depression in many people--and not just at family gatherings after too much mulled wine. While most of us are happily shopping for gifts, many men and women suffer from a slow and steady decline in mood and energy level called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, an appropriate acronym--if potentially reductive), a condition associated with shorter periods of daylight in winter. If you find yourself depressed, irritable, and anxious -- particularly if it happens every winter -- you can take some precautions to prevent SAD. Get as much natural sunlight as possible by keeping windows and blinds open at home and while working, doing chores outside during the day, and taking a walk during midday when the sunlight is brightest. Your doctor may prescribe phototherapy (using specially designed lamps), psychotherapy, or antidepressants. Catching those rays can keep you in high spirits, but remember to protect your skin by using sunscreen.

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