Men are more likely to start their lonely-hearts search by casting a wide net and trying to arrange dates with as many eligible women as possible, according to Douglas Raybeck, a professor of anthropology at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.

Women are more selective. They’re more cautious about embarking on serial dates and more likely to focus on one prospective mate at a time.

The good news is that most lonely hearts are honest about themselves. The personals are probably not a hotbed for liars and imposters, according to Raybeck. However, novices should be aware of common literary double entendres before arranging dates.

Here are a few to keep in mind:

Full-figured — Obese or overweight

Discreet encounter — Married man anxious to avoid a real-life re-enactment ofFatal Attraction

Enjoys fine dining — A woman seeking a partner willing and able to spend money on her

Enjoys cozy nights by a warm fire — Possible couch potato

40-ish — Closer to 45, or possibly 50

Enjoys movies — Probably spends more time watching TV

No head games — Looking for a sincere partner willing to make a lifelong commitment

Tired of the singles’ scene — Hoping to get hitched. Fast

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If this ad doesn’t pique your curiosity, it could be because it’s cloaked in the clichéd jargon that has become the language of the singles’ scene.

According to Douglas Raybeck (pictured above), a professor of anthropology at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., descriptions such as “enjoy romantic walks on the beach” are so widely used, they no longer reveal anything significant about the advertiser.

In a study that evaluated 462 singles ads in a New York newspaper, Raybeck found that not a single advertiser described his or her interests as watching TV. And only two `fessed up to enjoying time spent at the mall.

Similarly, many female advertisers described themselves as “full-figured” but the word “overweight” was never used by women.

Many advertisers state favorite activities like “cozy nights by a warm fire,” movies or reading. In reality, though, the cozy-nights-by-the-fire advertiser could be a couch potato who experiences separation anxiety when he’s a shuffle away from the TV remote, said Raybeck.

“That’s not to say it’s misleading advertising. Instead, what the advertiser is trying to say is they like the image the description is trying to convey,” said Raybeck, who is married and claims that romance is overrated as a feature of a happy marriage.

“People need to read advertisements carefully and analyze the subtext. [Personal ads] are the perfect tool to winnow unsuitable partners, but they are only a preliminary step. They shouldn’t be seen as the ultimate method of finding lasting romantic love,” he said.

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If you ask the average person what defines our sexual age, there’s a good chance he’ll mention AIDS. Almost every week the mass media mention some new study about its prevalence or treatment, or the horrifying statistics of AIDS in Africa.

And yet for many Americans, AIDS is not the sexual problem about which they need to worry most. If you’re heterosexual and not involved in IV drug use (either yourself or through your partner), the chances of contracting AIDS are small.

But sex, unfortunately, is not without risks.

There’s unwanted pregnancy, which arguably changes a person’s life more than anything short of catastrophic illness. There are still several million unintentional pregnancies in America every year. This despite an abundance of birth control methods that really do work — condoms, pills, diaphragms, IUDs, depo-provera, and the most reliable of all, sterilization.

There are also sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia, herpes and HPV. They won’t kill you, but they can bring plenty of trouble. They can undermine or destroy sterility; create problems during childbirth; interfere with sexual pleasure; and increase the risk of cervical cancer. While all can be treated, herpes and HPV cannot be cured.

Then we have the major league STDs — gonorrhea, syphilis and hepatitis. While they sound like things out of the past (or the gutter), perfectly nice people get them today. And they can ruin your life or kill you.

Finally, a broken heart is always a risk factor in sexual behavior. Sadly, some sexual partners lie, cheat and steal. Neither age nor gender, class, or race can predict or reduce the risk of heartbreak. The human foibles of betrayal and fickleness transcend all such boundaries. A broken heart is serious business for many, often resulting in depression, illness or behavioral acting out.

How do you talk about HIV and STDs? Pick a time when you feel close to your prospective partner, haven’t been drinking, have enough time for a full discussion, and have all or most of your clothes on.

Do it in a simple, straightforward way: “I want to enjoy sex with you, so I need to relax. That means talking about health issues, even though it’s uncomfortable for me. So let’s talk about it, OK?” Talk about the level of sexual experience you’ve had — unprotected intercourse, STDs, sexual contact with gay or bisexual men, intravenous drug use, and anything else you’d want revealed to you by a new partner.

If your would-be partner can’t handle this, or feels insulted, be glad you found out now. That’s why you brought it up.

Undertaking sexual activity thoughtfully means asking questions — and listening carefully to the answers — before leaping into bed with someone. You may be at little or no risk of catching HIV, but there are plenty of other problems out there.

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