You want to be cool (who doesn’t?)

Practice safe sex in your new college setting. File photo.

by Mary Turner
HIV/AIDS Health Columnist

August means different things to different people. The parents of school-age children typically rejoice in the knowledge that there are only a few days left before their children go back to school every day. This is exciting news for the kids who are looking forward to the back-to-school purchases and catching up with old friends and making new ones. However, it’s a time of dread for the kids who would really rather have summer break all year.

Here in Oklahoma, August signals the countdown to when college football starts. For some, though, August is that time to start preparing for the adventures of going away to college for the first time. Historically, going to college has been a transitional period, sort of a right-of-passage, from being an adult-sized kid in your parents’ house to being an independent adult.

For those students who actually move away to go to college, this represents the first real freedom they have had from their parents. Sure, many of us went to camp now and then for brief periods of time or had chances to spend a few days away for academic or sport events, but we were usually heavily chaperoned at such events. Going away to college means having extended free time without any watchful eyes surveying what you do. Even students who may choose to live at home, or close to home, and attend college experience a new found freedom. This freedom, though, can come with a steep price tag if you are not mindful of what you’re doing.

Without the worry of a school official calling your house or your parents demanding to know why you aren’t in bed at 3 a.m., a young adult can find all kinds of adventures—often sexual—to explore. Exploring our sexuality is a normal part of growing up, but we still have to be mindful of all the potential risks that are lurking out there. Being unsupervised can increase the possibility that you’ll engage in risky sexual behaviors.

Once upon a time, the worst consequence might be an unwanted pregnancy or “the clap.” Both situations were embarrassing and perhaps life altering, but certainly not life threatening. Today, having unprotected sex can lead to more serious STIs such as syphilis, hepatitis, herpes or HIV. If you’re very young and haven’t been away from home before, it can be hard to resist peer pressure.

You want to be cool (who doesn’t?) and you may want to seem worldly, especially to older students, so you may deliberately do things that will leave you vulnerable. Please know and understand that you can still be cool and do fun things in a responsible way.

Most colleges, especially residential ones, have offices, centers or programs that will provide condoms free of charge. They don’t necessarily encourage promiscuity or any sexual activity. They simply know that it happens because we’re human and sex feels really awesome (especially when we think we’re in love and nobody’s watching). So take advantage of the free love and free condoms.

Alas, college is also a time when people get their party on, and you may consume large quantities of alcohol or other substances. That can be a problem because alcohol and certain kinds of drugs shut down the regions in your brain that are responsible for making decisions. The result is that you can’t, at least not good ones.

Again, most colleges have programs designed to teach you about the risks, but if you’re like most healthy young people, you’ll probably ignore them. I encourage you not to. You can have a lot more fun if you are aware enough to enjoy the moment in the moment and to remember it later. Remember that you are the person in control of you. Don’t let someone make you feel uncomfortable or force you into something that you don’t want to do.  

As humans, we fall on a sexual continuum that ranges from lacking any interest to can’t get enough. You fall somewhere on that continuum. You’re normal. Everybody who gets sexually aroused gets aroused by someone. That’s also normal. You might even get lucky and have really hot professors (you know, those people who teach the classes you’re supposed to attend).

So get out there and have a safe fun time so that years from now you can embarrass your grandchildren with stories about what you once did at college and not about the person who gave you a “gift” you’ll live with forever. 

Copyright 2016 The Gayly - 8/14/2016 @ 9:21 a.m. CDT