Student Culture, Trends & Issues

What Every College-Aged Woman Needs to Know

"Girl on Wall" by Matt Gruber, via

[Adapted with permission from Northfield Publishing from chapter ten of Girls Uncovered: New Research on What America’s Sexual Culture does to Young Women (Northfield Publishing, 2012) by Joe McIlhaney, Jr., MD, and Freda McKissic Bush, MD with Stan Guthrie. Dr. McIlhaney and Dr. Bush are board-certified obstetrician/gynecologists with daughters of their own.]

When it comes to sexuality and relationship decision-making, the unfortunate reality is that many young women do not feel empowered to go against the flow of our hyper-sexualized culture. But as mentors and leaders of college students, you have a unique opportunity to speak into a young woman’s life and affirm her right and responsibility to make good choices. As you interact with these young women, there are a few truths you can verbally and actively communicate to her that may make a world of difference.

Remember that sex is sexist.

When it comes to the negative consequences of sexual activity, girls easily get the worst of it. Most of the cancer from HPV occurs in women[i], and all of the long-term effects of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), such as infertility and pelvic pain, occur in women. When a boy gets a girl pregnant, he doesn’t carry the baby for nine months—she does. And she is usually the one who takes care of the baby once it is born. It is also only the female who undergoes an abortion, which can cause many problems and always kills a baby in the uterus. Girls also seem to suffer more depression than boys do after sexual relationships are broken.[ii]

Don’t have sex with a guy just to make him happy. You own goals, plans, and health should be your No. 1 priority.

Get accurate information.

You cannot make informed decisions about your health and happiness unless you know the real risks. Besides our book, Girls Uncovered, your health care provider is another good source of information about the risks of sexual activity. But be sure to go to one who agrees with your decision to remain a virgin.

Put yourself in the driver’s seat and make decisions to ensure your health and happiness.

Research shows that females often agree (against their own desires) to have sex just to make their partners happy.[iii],[iv] Having sex before you are married exposes you to many risks—STIs, pregnancy, and psychological trauma. There is no good reason to ever take these risks!

Someone who is worth your time and attention will not leave you just because you want to wait to have sex. He will not ask you to make him happy, even if it makes you unhappy. He will not pressure you to take care of his sexual “needs,” which are not really needs at all, but just selfish desires. You need to make decisions that put your own health and life goals first.

Protect yourself.

Many girls have felt uncomfortable with how fast a guy is moving, but they are afraid (or embarrassed) to say so. If you are ever in this situation, tell him to stop right away. Your brain is giving you warning signals, and you need to listen to those signals and act on them quickly. Sometimes, a guy won’t stop even after a girl asks him to. This is rape, and a girl treated this way by a guy should report it to the police.

No guy has the right to keep going once you have told him to stop. Ever. If you feel like a situation is heading in that direction, leave immediately. Or scream if you are unable to leave. And listen to what your brain is telling you—it is often right. But if you are raped—even so-called “date rape”—report it immediately.

Demand high standards (such as honesty and respect) in a mate.

Finding a good marriage partner is not easy, but take time to figure out what you are really looking for in a partner—what is really important—and then stick to it. It’s true that building a life together can be difficult, and many marriages fail. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Sometimes the best things in life are hard, but they are worth the effort. Many studies indicate that marriage makes us healthier and happier, [v] and the fact is, most girls in our society want to get married at some point.[vi] So spend some time thinking about what the “right guy” will look like for you.

Don’t live with a partner unless you are married.

Many people will recommend that you live with someone before you decide to get married. They suggest that cohabitation will enable you to really get to know a potential mate’s personality (including all of his nasty habits) before making a commitment. But people who live together before they are married end up having higher rates of divorce and worse relationships.[vii] So don’t compromise on your future. Don’t live with a man until he puts the marriage band on your finger.

Take control of your life.

Finally, we want to encourage you to make decisions that are in your own best interests, especially when it comes to sex. Eventually, we all must become responsible for our bodies and our decisions. You (and no one else) will have to live in your body, and with all of your memories, for however many years you have. So be true to your best ideals and make your life count—for yourself and for others. We only get one crack at this thing called life.

[i] A.R. Giuliano, D. Salmon. The Case for Gender-Neutral (Universal) Human Papillomavirus Vaccination Policy in the United States: Point. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 2008; 17:805-808.

[ii] D.D. Hallfors, M.W. Waller, D. Bauer, C.A. Ford, C.T. Halpern. Which Comes First in Adolescence—Sex and Drugs or Depression? American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2005; 29:163-170.

[iii] E.A. Impett, L.A. Peplau. Sexual Compliance: Gender, Motivational, and Relationship Perspectives. The Journal of Sex Research 2003; 40:87-100.

[iv] C.E. Kaestle. Sexual Insistence and Disliked Sexual Activities in Young Adulthood: Differences by Gender and Relationship Characteristics. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 2009; 41:33-39.

[v] P.Y. Goodwin, W.D. Mosher, A. Chandra. Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States: A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital and Health Statics 2010; 23(8).

[vi] Bachman J, Johnston L, O’Malley P. Monitoring the Future: Questionnaire Responses from the Nation’s High School Seniors. Ann Arbor, MI: The Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan; 2009. Available at: Accessed August 11, 2010.

[vii] G.K. Rhoades, S.M. Stanley, H.J. Markman. The Pre-Engagement Cohabitation Effect: A Replication and Extension of Previous Findings. Journal of Family Psychology 2009; 23:107-111.