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Hooking Up: What’s a Parent to Do?

Young adults in college learn some very hard life lessons, but there’s one area where the lessons are coming too late. So, if you have a college student, read on.

As a physician, I hear what goes on at college campuses and it makes my heart sink. “Hooking up” has increased in popularity—not with all students—but with a hefty share. I could see this coming because over the past few decades, our collective public view of sex has grown increasingly disengaged.

First, women decided to have all the “fun” that men had during the 70s and 80s, so they amped up their sexual aggressiveness. Then, couples living together became more popular followed by a fad of bisexual experimentation. On some campuses being bisexual actually became a sign of sophistication. Funny how throwing away rules, self restraint, or self respect becomes “sophisticated.”

Now we have young adults openly engaging in “un-engaged” sex. The idea is that each party wants sexual satisfaction but no emotional ties. (Even they know this is impossible.) The two mutually come together for the purpose of satisfying their own desires. In short, they agree to use one another. As adults, they have the right to do this.

But I feel strongly that as adults, they need to be educated about their choices because there are serious physical and emotional consequences. To say otherwise is to think like a child. That’s where we parents come in. We have the moral obligation to dispense knowledge to our young adult children—particularly when it comes to potentially life-saving information.

Hooking Up Is Dangerous

Here’s why hooking up is dangerous on a strictly physical level. The US epidemic of sexually transmitted infections today is unprecedented. Forty years ago, the US contended with just two STDs, and those two were fairly easily treated. A shot of penicillin in the buttock, a prescription, and the patient was in his way. Not so anymore. A recent medical report warned doctors that syphilis and gonorrhea are outsmarting our strongest antibiotics and soon, a shot or handful of pills may no longer suffice.

Consider these facts:

  • Chlamydia is rampant among young women.
  • Herpes type 1 (oral herpes, which now infects genitalia because of the increased popularity of oral sex) and herpes type 2 affect an astounding 20% of the American population. One study says the prevalence of Herpes 2 may be 30% of all men and 40% of all women in the US by 2025.
  • HPV causes cervical cancer and—hold onto your hats—there are about 12 strains that cause cancer and more than 60 that do other things. If your daughter’s had her Gardasil shots, don’t relax too much. Gardasil covers only two of the cancer-causing HPVs (the other two cause warts).
  • Syphilis is alive and well and trichomonas too.
  • Of course HIV (both strains) is still around, though as a culture we have become more lax about it because of medications that now prolong life in those who are infected.

If you think I’m exaggerating to frighten you, simply go to the CDC’s website and look up the numbers. They are front and center. Schools teach our kids that some diseases are out there, but unfortunately, many programs are outdated and the instructors are poorly informed about what the CDC and NIH say about prevention. Many push condom use in kids but fail to tell them that condoms don’t work “the same” against all infections. They help reduce the risk of some infections, but not ones like Herpes and HPV, which get transmitted from skin to skin.

The sobering truth is, if a young adult has had three or four sexual partners, she’s got something.

HPV infects about 75% of the sexually active population, and condoms aren’t great at preventing its spread. Condom or not, young adults who hook up put themselves at enormous risk for infections of all sorts. These infections cause infertility in women, genital pain, birth defects or death in some children and at minimum, lower self esteem because of having an STD. There are national support groups for folks infected with herpes because the psychological effects are so painful.

College students may think that hooking up involves one night of casual, detached sex, but the reality is, it doesn’t. Once the pants are back on, many, many times, an infection sets in and problems ensue. Sadly, most students with a STD never know it because many don’t have symptoms.

Parents of young adults at college should have a sobering talk with their son or daughter. Your child needs to know  what they are doing so that they can make informed decisions. Good parents—regardless of our child’s age, never leave them in the dark—especially when life-threatening issues are involved.

When you talk, tell them the facts. You don’t need to get into moral issues, just stick to medical data.  If you need some, read my book, Your Kids at Risk. There’s more than you want there, and it’s all backed by the best medical studies available.

If you get through the facts and want to discuss the psychological ramifications of emotionally detached sex, well, that’s a whole other blog post. You can always start by telling him that you really wouldn’t have cared if your wife “hooked up” with ten men or women before she met you. Or—would it have bothered you?

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