The human papilloma virus—known as HPV—is a disease shrouded in misinformation. First off, it’s not just one disease; there are over 100 types of HPV which can cause anything from warts to cancer to cold sores to, well, nothing. Second off, it is not exclusively a sexually transmitted disease. Fewer than 40 of those 100 variants of HPV can be transmitted through sexual contact, and even those can (rarely) be transmitted through other, non-sexual physical contact. Approximately 12 of those 40 have been shown to lead to cervical cancer in women, but two of them (responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers) can be stopped by a recently-developed HPV vaccine.
To most, knowing the information I’ve just shared, combined with the fact that (by most measures) 50-75 percent of women will have a genital HPV infection at some point in their life, the course of action is clear. Widespread use of the HPV vaccine will significantly reduce up to 50-75 percent of the female population’s chance of getting cervical cancer. This is a Good Thing™.
Like other vaccinations that serve to reduce or prevent deadly diseases, the HPV vaccine should be a requirement for young women. To make this happen, our middle schools should require that all girls have the HPV vaccination before being admitted to the seventh grade—just like everybody has to have their measles vaccination to get into elementary school and their viral meningitis vaccination to get into college, among numerous other required vaccinations.
But, for some reason, many right-wing radicals have the idea that HPV vaccinations will give their pubescent daughters unlimited license to have sex—you know, since deathly fear of mild genital warts and an increased risk of cervical cancer thirty years later has all those girls keeping their panties on today. This rationale—the same rationale which leads those right-wing radicals to support a failed system of abstinence-only sex education in our schools—is flawed.
First, most teens are going to have sex. Period. Even those that intend to remain abstinent seldom have the will-power to remain so in the face of natural sexual maturity/desire combined with opportunity. Since teenage sex is effectively inevitable, most rational thinkers would prefer teens be protected by available vaccines and know how to use condoms (thus drastically reducing the likelihood they’ll have unwanted children or catch diseases). I’m pretty right-wing myself, but I’ll take an increase in teenage sexual activity if we can significantly reduce out-of-wedlock children, abortions, infanticide, and STDs.
Second, when it comes to the HPV vaccine specifically, the strains of the disease that may lead to cancer can—in rare cases—be transmitted non-sexually. Furthermore, given the level of infection in our society, it’s quite possible (even likely) for monogamous married couples to get it at some point as well. Thus, the vaccine has a long-lasting benefit even for the good, chaste teenage girl. Anyway, if we were to accept the right-wingers’ flawed argument that HPV vaccination will lead to sex, we still must ask a simple question: is it more important that a teenage girl not have sex, or that she not get cervical cancer when she’s older? Again, I’ll take an increase in teenage sexual activity if we can reduce or eliminate cervical cancer.
This is not rocket science, people.