The College Years
Though we have separated this resource into sections by age, this is far from a static breakdown. All children are different and it’s most important to educate them based on their own personal growth. Your children may ask questions, run into sexual or social problems or may become sexually active earlier or later that you expect, so we welcome you to skip ahead or go back to sections to find the relevant advice. We all learn and grown at our own rate and so these designations are meant to be guidelines, not rules.
Keep It Up
Whether your children go to another state for college, another town or don't go to college at all, it's important to continue the conversations about sex into their later teenage years. They may seem all grown up, but college can introduce a wealth of new sexual questions, problems and issues. Talk often and casually. Include the topic of sex and relationships in your other casual conversations. Continue to be open about these topics whether they have questions, need comforting or just want to chat.
Drinking and Sex
Binge drinking is a national problem at college. Students will have more access to alcohol in college and the pressure to drink to excess may grow. Talk to your child about their drinking habits without accusing or yelling. This will make them more likely to share with you. Instead of chastising them for drinking because it is a "bad" behavior, remember to explain why you think it can be unhealthy. Recent research has found that women who binge drink experience greater numbers of unwanted pregnancies, presumably from the decreased ability to make rational decisions, like using a condom, that comes with very extreme alcohol consumption (1). Ask them why they drink and what they do or don't enjoy about it. Alcohol is often a factor in sexual assault and can lead to people being much less safe about their sexual behavior. Remind your child of this, let them know you care about their physical and emotional health, not just about the amount of beer they consume. Ask them what they do to stay safe while they are drinking. Give them advice like avoiding sexual contact while under the influence, staying with groups of friends at parties and not allowing their friends to go home with a stranger if they are drunk.
Getting Tested - Again
At this age, your child is more independent and probably having more sex. More sex means increased risk of STIs. Once again, stress the importance of getting tested. Many college health centers offer free STI and HIV testing. The importance of early detection can never be overemphasized.
Coming Into Their Own
These are often the years where your child will grow into his or her own individual brand of sexuality. They may experiment with various types of sex with various different partners, they may have horrible sexual experiences and they may have wonderful ones. Whether they call to tell you are dating someone of the same sex or you find a pair of handcuffs in their bag, don't freak out. Homosexual activity, kinky sex or anything in between are not the same things as unsafe sex. Even if you feel uncomfortable with this behavior (or maybe you're completely comfortable or have even tried it yourself), don't assume this means your child is throwing sexual caution to the wind. Use the aforementioned tips and keep talking to them, asking questions and listening to them.
1. Standerwick, K. Binge drinking, sexual behavior and sexually transmitted infection in the UK . International Journal of STD & AIDS Vol. 18. 2007.