Leaving the Nest

Dear Dr. Melanie,

My daughter is heading off to college, and my biggest fear is that she’ll get pregnant. She hates to talk about anything personal, so what do you recommend I do? I am embarrassed to talk to her about this, and I haven’t a clue whether she’s sexually active. – Concerned Mom


Dear Mom,

It’s never too late to start talking, and sexual assault, unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STI)are too serious a threat to ignore. You need to focus on her health and happiness instead of your potential embarrassment. You don’t need to pry into her personal life. She’s at least 18 and has a right to privacy. So don’t ask whether she’s sexually active, and don’t make assumptions: she may be committed to holding off on intercourse for years to come. What you can do is buy some condoms, personal lubricant, and an over-the-counter backup contraceptive like foam, film, or suppositories. Make an appointment to talk to her without distractions, and give her the items you’ve purchased, saying, “I don’t know whether you’re sexually active or whether you plan to be, and I don’t need to know. What I do need to know, as your mom, is that you have some contraceptives in case you need them at college. You’re free to give them to a roommate or friend if you don’t need them. I also need to share that if you have any questions or concerns about relationships or sex, I hope you’ll feel comfortable coming to me.” Then, see what happens.

If your insurance plan covers contraceptives, you might mention that if she’s ever at a point where it would be helpful to do so, she can get her contraceptive prescription and STI tests covered by your plan. At another time, have a conversation about the importance of drinking only in moderation. I hear a lot of sad stories from college students (male and female) who drink ‘til they nearly pass out and can’t recall later whether they had sex, let alone with whom and whether condoms were used.