Framing of HPV Discourse
I don’t think much of Texas governor Rick Perry. I regard mandating HPV vaccination one of the few good things he accomplished during his tenure, even if he didn’t do it out of understanding of science based medicine and herd immunity. (It would have been even better if he’d encouraged students of both sexes to get vaccinated as both sexes suffer negative side effects and cancers as a result, but beggars can’t be choosers.)
Now that he’s courting different public image, naturally, doing something good and positive to prevent diseases and cancers in men and women is a bad, bad thing. Because you mainly transfer human papillomavirus by *gasp* having sex. And since sex/sexuality is a terrible thing you should hide and hate yourself for until you marry someone of the opposite sex, we should make sure that there are as many negative consequences to it as possible. Naturally, this means not vaccinating girls against the most common cause of deadly cervical cancer, because only dirty sluts are at risk for it anyway. Right?
The fact is, the social stigmas for premarital sex are so disproportionate between young men and women that pretending that a woman is safe from HPV infection if she is a “good girl” and stays a virgin until marriage is disingenuous. Socially as young girls are simultaneously rewarded and punished for virginity (we really have some stupid hangups), young men are lessers if they don’t want and seek sex constantly. I assume you can see where I’m going with this? Yep, even the good religiously shamed virgin can very well get HPV from her spouse and die of cervical cancer. The young child whose uncle or stepfather abuses him can contract it through no fault of his own. The young woman whose trust is betrayed when a friend rapes her can contract the disease and never know.
The overall statistical infection rate for the U.S. population seems to hover around 50% of the population. So it’s hardly a disease contracted just by those who are highly promiscuous. Why then do we allow the public and media discussions of vaccination to center on sexual morality?
Protecting huge swaths of the population from the small side effects (warts) as well as sometimes life-threatening cancers in genital and oral areas should be an undeniable public good. Aside from some truly compassion-challenged people who oppose medical interventions on religious grounds, stopping cancer is universally acknowledged as a wonderful thing. Why can’t we change the way that we talk about HPV infection, and focus on preventing its spread to boys and girls?