Don’t Fear the Freshman Year
Q: I have a daughter leaving for college in the fall. I am worried that if I promote her going on birth control, like “the pill,“ she will get the idea that I sanction sex. However, I am also worried that if I don’t, I am leaving her open to a situation that could have lasting consequences that she is not prepared for. Additionally, I am worried about STDs and want her prepared to use condoms. How should I approach these subjects without sending mixed messages?”
A: First, you want to honor your values and beliefs about sexuality in whatever you do. You can talk about sex without sanctioning it. You can talk about wanting your daughter to protect her health without suggesting she have casual intimate relationships, either now or in the future.
Second, as you are preparing for your daughter to leave this fall, it may be an opportune time to bring up the topic of sex, health and relationships as you go through your checklist for how she needs to be prepared. You may be setting appointments to get her eyes checked, her teeth cleaned, thinking about one last haircut, and the items she will need to pack, including a first aid kit. If you include her in generating this list, then there will be opportunities for you to suggest adding a gynecologist visit and the use of condoms. Her response may open the door to a really good conversation.
Your question shows that you understand that your daughter’s developmental stage may not match her best decision-making stage. She also may not have fully developed her ability to understand the dynamics of attraction. It also sounds like this is tough for you. You may not have had that many talks with your daughter about her understanding and values concerning sex and birth control. No wonder you are worried about it. You are very clear about the choices ahead of her and the new found freedoms that will exist once she leaves home. You know she may have some very big decisions ahead of her.
Now is a good time to remind her that choices left to the last moment may compromise her ability to choose wisely and in her own best interest. You are not alone in making sure your daughter knows she is responsible for herself now. You want her to understand that thinking clearly about her future is important before she finds herself in a difficult situation. She can make sure she does not leave big decisions such as sex and pregnancy to chance.
She may not yet be able to imagine being under the influence of infatuation, attraction, alcohol or drugs and how she might end up not being clear-headed or clear-hearted enough to take necessary precautions or make good decisions.
Your daughter’s friends’ parents can be a valuable resource for you. What are they doing as their daughters head off to college? You might be surprised what they have either learned about the college resources or about their daughter’s views on “Being Prepared.”
You may want to research what resources are available for your daughter at her college or university. Many freshmen use their college health clinic as their preferred place to seek birth control. You can call them to make sure there would be no barriers to her getting the resources she might need.
You want to make sure she knows about sexually transmitted disease and birth control methods whether you talk directly about it or not. There are good books that contain information about abstinence, pills, patches, cervical caps, rings, IUD’s, diaphragms, condoms, spermicides, and emergency contraception (the morning after pill.) They give rates of pregnancy with each and address myths regarding other methods. Our Bodies, Ourselves or The Doctor’s Complete College Girls Health Guide might be useful.
Are you prepared for your daughter wanting to get on the pill or use other forms of birth control? Even if you haven’t addressed it directly, you have probably indirectly given her a clear picture regarding your beliefs about sex. Don’t assume she doesn’t know what you think.
If you were secretly hoping she would be outraged at your suggestion, try not to judge her if she wants to explore birth control options. Don’t assume she is getting ready to become promiscuous. Understand that many of her peers might have been on the pill or using other means of protection for years. She also may have heard that potential partners might assume girls are responsible for their protection from unwanted pregnancy. Your daughter might believe that as well.
If your daughter chooses to go on the pill, don’t be surprised if she has some unexpected side effects from taking a new medication. She might need your support as she explores what dose and what pill or birth control method might best suit her personality, her biology and her needs. Being a non-directive good listener in this step might keep communication flowing between the two of you. You want to be a witness to her taking responsibility and making more adult decisions on her own. Good luck!
“The Guide to Getting It On” by Paul Joannides
“Our Bodies, Ourselves (2005)” by The Boston Women’s Health Collaborative
‘’The Doctor’s Complete College Girls’ Health Guide: From Sex to Drugs to the Freshman 15’’ by Jennifer Wider, M.D.