Dear grads, it’s that time of year again, when you all are graduating from high school and college. There are ceremonies and celebrations. There are tears, and gifts and joy that you made it!
There are important conversations about your future that your teachers and parents and adults who care about you have had with you — and probably a few that never did happen. So, as you go on toward your next adventures, whether they are in college or in “real life,” here are some words of wisdom from your friendly, neighborhood sexuality educator.
You’ve already gotten and will continue to get a ton of mixed messages about sex. Media will tell you that it’s natural and you don’t even have to know a person very well to have sex. You’ve probably seen clips of spring break and people doing crazy stuff, but that doesn’t mean everyone is and it doesn’t mean you have to do that.
Your family or faith tradition may discourage you from rushing into sexual behavior. Your hormones may be urging you to go for it, while your values and intellect might be telling you to slow down. You may have friends who think it’s no big deal, who think it’s important to be in love, or who are waiting until marriage to have sex. In the end, you will have to decide which voices and messages to listen to.
Whatever you decide, I hope you will be safe. I hope you will be wise. I hope you will be cautious at parties. Even if someone doesn’t slip something into your drink, simply drinking alcohol impairs your decision-making. Even if you have your wits about you, the person you are thinking of having sex with might not. Or the person over there in the corner may have had too many drinks. Or your roommate or a friend may need your clear head when their head is not so clear.
Consent is about two people making a conscious, clear-headed decision to enter into this behavior, which you or a partner or a friend or anyone cannot do while drunk.
I hope that you’ll think carefully about what you do want to do, what is OK with you, and what you don’t want to do, what you’re not ready for and what is not OK with you.
Should you choose to engage in any behavior that carries risk of pregnancy or disease transmission (i.e., oral sex, anal sex, vaginal sex, or genital contact with someone with certain diseases), I hope you will insist on using protection. Remember that the methods of contraception that do the best job preventing pregnancy don’t do a darned thing to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Use condoms. Use condoms. Use condoms.
The most common symptom of a sexually transmitted disease is no symptom, and unfortunately for you, one in four youth your age have one, and most don’t know it. Not knowing you have a sexually transmitted disease does nothing to keep it from being passed on, though, so be sure you and your partner get tested. And did I mention you should use condoms?
You probably have people in your life who want you to wait to have sex. That’s because they care about you, and they know how much an unplanned pregnancy, disease, or nasty break up can mess up your life. But you’re graduating, and all of us adults who care about you won’t be with you while you make a lot of your decisions.
Sure, you can call us, but we won’t be chaperoning you at every party or on every date or in every potentially compromising situation (thank, goodness, right?). What I hope for you is that you will think about all this and make the best choices you can.
What I hope for you is that you know that sexual behavior should always be your choice. You can say no whenever you don’t want to, and you deserve to be listened to. No one should ever take this choice away from you. Likewise, you also have the responsibility to listen to what another person does and doesn’t want and to respect that.
I hope that you will think about all this now, before you head off on your next adventure. I hope you will think about what you want, and what you don’t want. And I hope you will be true to yourself and not compromise who you are for anyone else.