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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have been a sexually active male since puberty, but I never took protection seriously. Then, two years ago, I learned that an older friend of mine had been diagnosed with HIV. His wife had it before they met. They are an average family, with the house, the kids, the dog, and church every Sunday. Just plain good people -- with HIV.

That made me sit down and think hard. No more running around for me! I'm in my early 20s -- too young to die.

I found a girlfriend who was not sexually active. She told me she had been intimate with only one person, and only one time. We dated steadily for a year and a half before we engaged in intercourse. It lasted only about 30 seconds before she said, "This isn't right -- we should be married!" Then she put her clothes back on.

About a month later I noticed a bump on my penis, then two bumps, then three. I went to the clinic for medical treatment, and was tested for HIV and all the other sexually transmitted diseases, and was given treatment for genital warts. It was a very painful procedure where acid was applied to the affected area. Over the course of a week the bumps fell off, leaving open, bleeding sores.

I was told genital warts are a serious problem. It is a virus, meaning I will have to get treatments and watch for outbreaks until my dying day. For a woman, it is worse. It hides, unexposed, with no symptoms. If left untreated it can cause cancer, leading to a hysterectomy -- or worse yet -- death!

I thought just knowing your partner was safe was enough. I thought a year and a half was long enough. I was wrong. For 30 seconds of unprotected sex, I now have the "gift" that keeps on giving.

What can you do to protect yourself in the '90s? Demand to see STD results or bring 75 cents' worth of latex (condom) into the relationship. It can be a matter of life or death. -- KEEPING MY PANTS ON IN FLORIDA

DEAR KEEPING: You have learned a sobering lesson. Thank you for speaking out.

More than 12 million cases of sexually transmitted disease are reported in the United States each year. We now lead all the other developed nations in the rate that diseases are spread through sexual contact. The cost to taxpayers for curable STDs is an estimated $10 billion annually!

According to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., the public sector spends only $1 to prevent and fight curable STDs for every $43 spent on treatment and other costs. Education is essential. STD prevention can be effective only if people are willing to change their sexual behavior by using condoms and delaying sexual activity as long as possible.

School districts could help by requiring that information regarding sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy prevention be part of an age-appropriate health education curriculum, and given every year.

According to the report, there is no evidence that condom availability, or school-based education programs to prevent STDs, promotes sexual activity.

In this case, ignorance is the enemy. And yes, I know I'll hear from readers insisting that abstinence is the only 100 percent safe sex. However, for those who are unable to remain abstinent, effective sex education is the answer.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600