By Sheryl Kingsberg, Ph.D.
Professor Reproductive Biology and Psychiatry
Case Western Reserve University
Chief of Division of Behavioral Medicine
MacDonald Women's Hospital/University Hospitals
Cleveland Medical Center
Ah, you're dealing with the conundrum of parents everywhere: How to let go without completely cutting the cord. First, let me say what a good thing it is that you and your daughter were able to talk calmly about this. By dealing with this—and similar situations—in the manner you have, you can rest assured that while she's growing up, she won't grow away from you.
There is no need for you to condone her sexual activity. It is appropriate for you to tell her how you feel about her becoming sexually active at this time in her life without judging her. Use phrases such as, "While I would prefer that you wait until you are older to be sexually active, I understand that this is your life, and you know that I support and love you no matter what you do." Then shift into mother-mode and make sure your daughter is safe.
Find out what type of birth control she's using. Given the maturity levels of teenagers and the complexities of college, suggest that she talk to her health care professional about a long-term form of birth control that she doesn't have to think about on a daily or even monthly basis, such as Depo Provera (an injection that lasts three months) or an IUD, which can provide protection for up to 10 years.
Also make sure that regardless of her contraceptive choice, your daughter and her boyfriend are using a condom to protect against any sexually transmitted infections. Suggest (strongly) that she get vaccinated with Gardasil, a vaccine that protects against the primary forms of a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.
And don't forget to have a conversation about the emotional ramifications of sex. Assure her that you just want to make sure that she doesn't get hurt and that she's viewing this relationship in a realistic light.
Finally, it's OK to shed a few tears. Your little girl is really growing up—and that's a tough discovery for any mother.