Sex and vaccines: The pre-college prep talk

It’s tough sending kids off to college.

Sure, my kids, like yours, never get in trouble. They exercise an hour a day, limit Fortnite/video games to two hours, put schoolwork before network, eat broccoli before brownies. Still, I believe they need certain facts straight. So when one of them says, “Hypothetically, if one …,” they can help each other, know what’s available, where to turn.

In launching my second child towards college, I keep these health issues in my peripheral vision.

First, vaccines.

If your kids have been receiving regular pediatric care, they’re probably OK. Most colleges mandate meningococcal vaccine, which protects against infection of the brain lining. The first dose is usually given at age 11-12; second dose, 16. Even high schools, like Westlake, require it.

A different type of meningococcal vaccine (for serogroup B only), protects against rare outbreaks. It is recommended for high-risk individuals. Consult your doctor.  

While not required by schools, I like to put in a plug for human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. Unique among vaccines, HPV vaccine is designed to prevent cancer.

HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted disease (STD). “Almost every person who is sexually active will get HPV at some time in their life," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Through vaginal, anal and oral contacts, HPV causes genital and throat cancers in both sexes. Doctors can only prevent one – cervical cancer – through early detection with Pap screening.   

While most young people will clear the infection themselves over years, there’s no predicting the unlucky ones. Each year, HPV causes over 35,000 cancer cases in the U.S., about 60 percent occur in women (mostly cervical cancer), 40 percent in men (mostly throat cancer). Current HPV vaccine tackles nine nasties – very effectively. Yet less than half the girls and boys are properly vaccinated by age 17, taking full advantage of this vaccine.

Second, sex.

For contraception, doctors recommend intrauterine devices (IUD) and implants over birth control pills. They’re easier to manage, thus more reliable.

But condoms remain the only protection against STD.

Emergency contraception (EC) or “the morning-after pill” isn’t just for the morning after. It can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. Over-the-counter, one-dose forms are available. It can reduce pregnancy risk by over 90 percent – safely. This isn’t abortion.

Lots of EC information is online; Planned Parenthood has a good section.

Two years ago, I sent my firstborn to college. He missed many things about me. Cooking, I didn’t think, would top the list – or make it at all.

The first time he went to his favorite cafeteria, which has two floors of specialized food stations, the breakfast chef asked the homesick boy how he’d like his omelet. The boy said he’d like it burnt on one side, undercooked on the other – “The way my mom makes it.”

Apparently, there was an embarrassingly long silence, broken by peals of laughter from both sides of the counter.

My two cents: Next time, instead of ambushing the boy about my culinary skills, quiz him on safe sex. Let’s see who’s laughing then.

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Volume 10, Issue 15, Posted 9:51 AM, 08.07.2018