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Countdown to College Part 4-Sexual Decision Making

In There's a Stranger in My House by Dr James Wellborn

Love, intimacy, rejection, lust, heartbreak, carnal pleasure; there’s so much for your college bound kid to learn and experience in the months ahead.  This is the fourth and final column on some of the discussions worth having with your older teen as they prepare to take off for college.  As such, there are several aspects of sexual decision making they should probably review.  Here are some questions to ask your kid that will frame the conversation.

What are your morals about sex (i.e., when do you think it is right and when is it wrong)?

These kinds of conversations don’t seem to take place any more.  Have your kid identify their sexual morals?  Even if they are just telling you what you want to hear, it can have an effect on their sexual decision making in college.

What are your criteria for having sex?

Having morals doesn’t automatically mean your kid will wait until marriage to have sex.  Have them talk about what they require of a person and in a relationship before becoming sexually intimate.  Find out about their REAL criteria are for the right time to have sex.  How committed are they to these conditions?  What will they do if a very attractive person is interested in having casual sex with them?  (This leads to the questions about pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and date rape presented below.)

What kind of protection do you plan on using if you decide to have sex?

Talking about safer sex doesn’t mean you are telling them to have sex.  Ignoring the possibility that they may change their mind about abstinence leaves the consideration of protecting themselves unexamined.  Sexually active teens who don’t use contraception have a 90% chance of becoming pregnant in a year.  It’s time to talk (again?) about contraception with your kid.  Make them look you in the eye and tell you how they plan on being sexually responsible and protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.  Require them to make a firm commitment to you that they will either use a condom or not have sex at all.

What are the most prevalent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

Syphilis, gonorrhea and crabs were the big sexually transmitted infections when we were teens.  Then came HIV.  There’s a new kid on the block that is much more pernicious:  HPV, a.k.a., genital warts.  It can be spread even if there is no outward sign of infection, it is linked to cervical cancer, and can be passed on to a newborn child during birth.  It is estimated that each time someone has unprotected sex with an infected individual there is a 40-60% risk of acquiring the infection.  Make sure your kid is educated.  If you are going to use scare tactics, they might as well be accurate.  Here’s a link for more information about STIs your kid should know about:  http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/stds-hiv-safer-sex-101.htm\

How can you tell if someone is uninfected?

You can tell by looking, right?  If someone will have sex with your kid on a whim, they may also have had sex with other people on a whim.  How many other people have been part of that sexual daisy chain?  The opportunity for casual sex in an open society means that you don’t know who has been there before.  The cost of this freedom is that kids have to consider unpleasant possibilities and their own sexual health.  It will be important to encourage your kid to take a close hard look at real world risks.  The only way you can tell is by being tested.

How do you deal with someone trying to pressure you into having sex?

Your kid needs to be able to say “no” and mean it.  This is both girls AND guys.  You can tell a lot about someone by how they respond to “no.”  Your kid will also benefit from thinking through how to get themselves out of an uncomfortable situation.  How will they put someone off (e.g., “This is not a good time right now,” “Thanks but I have to go find my friend,” etc.)?  How will they decline an offer for sex without insulting the other person (e.g., “I just don’t feel right about it,” “I don’t really know you well enough to risk having a baby with you,” etc.)?  Or, just say “no.”

What is the one condition that is most likely to lead to you having unplanned sex?

Alcohol or drug use.  Intoxication and sex don’t mix (or, rather, they seem to go together all too well).  Judgment is impaired and inhibitions are lowered leading to mixed signals or bad judgment.

What will you do if you get pregnant (if the girl is pregnant, both are pregnant)?

Contraception can fail.  The Russian roulette of unprotected sex will catch up with you.  Have them talk about what they plan to do should a pregnancy occur.  Follow each possible option through into the future:  abortion, adoption, or raising the child.  Be detailed.  How will it affect each of the people involved, including you?  Remind your son that they have no say in whether or not the pregnancy is carried to term and that they are financially responsible for the fruit of their loins whether or not they want the baby.  Talk to your daughter about being forever bound to a child’s father and his family.

What do you think we will expect of you (and what we will and won’t do) if you get pregnant?

Lots of grand parents are raising grandchildren.  Even if you know you will care for the child if necessary, talk at length about how you “ain’t raisin’ no more babies.”  If your kid thinks that they will be moving back into your house with their newborn infant or that you will take care of the kid while they go on about their life, getting pregnant might not be such a big deal.  Talk about the need for your kid to get a job to support their newborn.  Push hard on the “you got yourself into this, you’ll have to deal with it” outcomes of unplanned pregnancy.  You want them thinking about how it will impact their life before it impacts their life.

What do you know about date rape?

Most kids think of date rape as some brutish guy taking a girl to some isolated place and forcing her to have sex.  It turns out that the problem is much broader and hazier than that.  Here are some of the things your kid, especially your son, should know.  Being just a little too sexually aggressive can cross the line.  If someone says “no”, any subsequent sexual activity with them can constitute date rape.  If someone pushes your kid away, even without saying “no,” and your kid continues to try to kiss (i.e., sexual assault) or having sex (i.e., rape) with that person, your kid could be committing date rape in the eyes of the law.  It doesn’t matter how coy or playfully someone is when they say “stop” or indicates they want you to stop.  If they are uncomfortable with what is happening, your kid can be charged with (and potentially successfully prosecuted for) date rape.  If your kid’s sexual partner has consumed even a small amount of alcohol or drugs, the law says they have a diminished capacity to make decisions.  Anything your kid does with them sexually can be considered date rape, even if your kid didn’t know they were under the influence.  Sex crime convictions lead to your name being added to a national data base that follows you the rest of your life.

So here are a few guidelines to suggest.  They should really know the person they are having sex with.  “No” means no.  Stop when someone indicates they are in any way uncomfortable or an unwilling participant.  If someone is hesitant about sexual activity, don’t try to talk them into it.  If there is even the possibility that someone has been drinking or using drugs (even marijuana), don’t have sex with them.

Have you thought much about keeping your sex life private?

One final consideration in these days of digital media and miniaturization is the prospect of someone video recording your kid’s intimate moments.  For most people, sex is a personal, private experience.  Your kid needs to be aware that not everyone shares this sensibility and may be keeping a personal record of their conquests to be shared with friends or the world.  Stories abound of people having sexual encounters posted on the internet without their permission.  Make sure your kid has thought about how to keep private moments private.  If they think some sexual performance art could be thrilling, it is important to run that little experimentation out into the future so that they can appreciate the ways it can haunt them into adulthood.

Your young adult child is moving into that stage of life where they assume increasing responsibility for their own growth and development.  This series of blogs has been focused on some of the risks that accompany freedom and responsibility.  Your kid’s entry into this exciting time of life is worth celebrating.  After you have talked to them about the ways that they can become alcoholics, drug addicts, assaulted, and infected with sexual diseases you can then talk about all the fun they are going to have as they venture forth into the big wide world of college life.