Welcome to campus, girls

[Why Read This?, an excerpt from Sense & Sexuality]

Don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope to never see you in my office.

For more than ten years I’ve been a physician at a campus counseling center, and hardly a day has gone by without my meeting a young woman like you. She’s working hard to fulfill her dreams: a college education, maybe grad school, a great career, and—at some point—a home, husband, and kids. But she’s in crisis, and there are lots of tears as she shares her struggles and setbacks. I feel terrible, but there’s not much I can do.

You see, by the time she comes into my office, it’s after the fact. She’s already made decisions she regrets. She’s already involved with the wrong guy, or infected with genital warts or herpes. She’s already lost a great relationship, missed an opportunity, or failed a midterm. I’m her doctor, but all I can do is sit there, listen, and hand her tissues.

The worst part? Many times the crisis was 100 percent preventable. If only I’d known … she says. If only someone had told me.

I’ve written this for you—for young women everywhere—so you won’t ever utter those words. No, this is not a guide to “safer sex.” Those are easily available elsewhere. What you’ll find here is critical health information you’ve probably never heard, facts that can help you avoid some of the disappointments and troubles so many college women experience.

Look, there are irritations you may face in college that are out of your control: roommates who endlessly hit “snooze”; weird dorm odors; mandatory Friday morning lab; a computer crash at the worst possible time. They may seem disastrous, but someday, when you recall them, you’ll laugh.

Then there are challenges you may face in college, or later, that will never bring a smile. Blisters or warts in private places. Meaningless, regrettable sex. Pre-cancerous conditions. Age-related infertility. These are huge issues that affect women more often than men. They can throw your life plans off track. They can stand between you and your dreams.

The good news? It’s in your hands. You can avoid joining the patients who stream into my office saying, if only I’d known.

I want you to dream big, girls, because there’s so much to look forward to. Just know this: you’ve got to play it smart.