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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I was interested to read the letter about genital warts from "Keeping My Pants On in Florida." As a gynecologist, I agree that prevention of sexually transmitted disease is the best solution to this enormous medical problem.

The same sexually transmitted virus that causes genital warts (HPV) is the most common cause of cervical cancer. The more sexual partners you have had, or the more partners your partner has had, the greater your risk of coming into contact with this virus.

Another important risk is the age at which a person becomes sexually active, since during adolescence the cells of the cervix are more susceptible to this infection. Therefore, intercourse at an early age increases the risk of getting cervical precancer and cancer.

HPV is often detectable during a regular gynecologic examination. A routine Pap smear is a fairly effective way to find this virus on the cervix, long before it has caused cervical cancer.

Treatment for both genital warts and abnormal Pap smears can be easily performed in the doctor's office with minimal discomfort. Hysterectomy is rarely necessary. And the development of cervical cancer and death is avoidable if women will simply have yearly examinations and Pap smears. -- WILLIAM H. PARKER, M.D., SANTA MONICA, CALIF.

DEAR DR. PARKER: Thank you for this information. Since many people suffer from genital warts, I'm sure it will be appreciated. You are not the only medical professional who wrote to comment about the letter from "Keeping My Pants On in Florida." Read on for another response:

DEAR ABBY: The man in Florida who acquired genital warts from his girlfriend after having sex with her for the first time was under the false assumption that had he used a condom he would not have contracted this virus.

Condoms are ineffective in preventing the transmission of genital warts or herpes. They are transmitted by intimate skin-to-skin contact in areas that the condom does not cover. These viruses also shed beyond the "protected" area. Transmission of genital warts can also occur through secondary contact, such as fondling, foreplay and petting.

Abby, please make this clear to your readers: The 12 percent failure rate of condoms in the prevention of pregnancy alone argues against their use for preventing an incurable or fatal disease. People must understand the ineffectiveness of condoms. The only safe sex is a mature, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. If people choose otherwise, they should be aware of the risks involved. -- SALLY BEACH, R.N., LAKE WORTH, FLA.

DEAR SALLY BEACH: Thank you on behalf of my readers for the warning. Although it may be tempting to proceed in the heat of passion, it's wiser to wait until after a period of cool reflection before consummating a sexual relationship.

CONFIDENTIAL TO OUTSIDER IN GULFPORT, MISS.: Don't give up on finding your niche. You are not alone. Bette Midler once said: "I didn't belong as a kid, and that always bothered me. If only I'd known that one day my differentness would be an asset, my early life would have been much easier."

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