At what point did women hand over their bodies to medicine? To the government? To scare-tactics? To “scare”-tistics?
Why are all of these girls smiling about it?
For once, I’m not referring to birth.
These thoughts have been lolling around in my mind for months, ever since the debate about the HPV vaccine began to brew.
First, let me say that I realize prevention and protection are critical for our health when it comes to diseases and illness. Science indeed provides some ingenious ways in which we can achieve this. But so do our bodies and our ability to reason and made choices. But at what price does Science protect us? And where do we draw the line? How do we get to the root causes of some of these diseases and actually find ways in which to eradicate them?
I also realize that “accidents” happen, that even the safest people are sometimes caught in the traps of disease.
But to me, the HPV vaccination goes beyond simply protection against a disease. My first gut instinct when I heard about it? Disbelief, which turned to anger, which turn to disappointment.
Disbelief, anger, and disappointment over the consideration that our government could (once again) try to mandate medical action on a female’s body. Here’s a scary quote from Juan Carlos Felix of the University of Southern California, who leads the National Cervical Cancer Coalition’s medical advisory panel.
“I would like to see it that if you don’t have your HPV vaccine, you can’t start high school.”
Disbelief, anger, and disappointment over the fact that the vaccine was being deceivingly marketed as one “developed to prevent cervical cancer and other diseases… caused by certain types of HPV.” Notice the very deliberate ordering of phrases in this sentence. First comes the big bang – cervical cancer! – and then that little ol’ STD called HPV. Never mind that the vaccine is really one to prevent HPV. That’s it. Yes, HPV can lead to cervical cancer. But one can also acquire cervical cancer without HPV. What to do about those unfortunate women?
Also, note that “It is important to realize that the vaccine doesn’t protect against all cancer-causing types of HPV” and “the vaccine is that it protects against the 2 viruses that cause 90% of genital warts.” And the vaccine requires a series of three injections over a 6 month period.” While the vaccination may indeed prevent most, it is important to remember that it is not a guaranteed safety net (once again, I realize that this is the case with any preventative measure). Check out these very important recent facts on Gardisil, which include over 1,600 adverse reactions, including three deaths.
Disbelief, anger, and disappointment that such a vaccine is being marketed to girls as young as nine years old. What a way to introduce a young girl to the deep dynamics of sexuality. Scare them by talking about the STD they could get. Then scare them about the cancer that their sacred cervix could acquire.
I have to wonder if parents are even talking to their nine year olds about such things when they decide to vaccinate: what an STD is, how you can get it, how you can protect against it, what a cervix is, what it’s function is, what cancer means. What SEX is, for crying out loud. And then I wonder if a nine year old needs to contemplate diseases, loss of fertility, or mortality in this shocking and dreadful way.
I recognize that parents choose to vaccinate for many reasons. And sure, you don’t explain to your nine year old so much about diphtheria or influenza, respiratory diseases which are difficult to protect against. But a disease which requires their sexual engagement, their consent, their choice? Should the vaccination not, then, be one of their choice?
The CDC’s website FAQ section includes the following verbiage “Providing information to adolescents and their families about the health consequences of sexual activity, including sexually transmitted illnesses such as HPV and the benefits and limitations of the HPV vaccine, as part of a comprehensive approach to support health-promoting behaviors will help adolescents make healthy choices.”
So, technically, shouldn’t the choice to vaccinate then not fall to that adolescent? Some may think it foolhardy that a teen could make a complete and informed choice about such a thing. And yet, by encouraging the vaccination, are we not acknowledging the potential that this same teen could be making the choice to have sex? Perhaps yes and perhaps no, but isn’t it an idea worth discussing?
I do not profess to know the answers. Like so many issues, I’m probably somewhere in the middle. I only know that something sharp and deep steeps within my body, something that quakes and shivers when I rehash the far-reaching psychological, cultural, and emotional implications and ethics of such a vaccination. Particularly one being marketed and pushed upon our young. I only know that a plethora of questions arise in me and I am unable to find answers that sit well with my conscience and my convictions.
- What message does this send to young girls, and young boys for that matter, about sexuality?
- Why do syoung girls and women once again bear the burden of being protected against the “woes” of sexuality (pregnancy, disease, death, stigma)?
- Does it imply that young girls and women need to be “protected” but boys and men do not? Where is the accountability for the boys and men? Where is their vaccine?
- Does this place undue pressure on girls to not “catch” a “dirty” STD?
- Will they be “dirty” if they do? Will they face inevitable cancer?
“It all comes down to the evils of sex. “That’s an ideological position impervious to empirical evidence.” – James Trussell.
Indeed. And so, on the flip side, I also understand why teens don’t always go out of their way to protect themselves from STD’s or from pregnancy. Maybe supporters of the HPV vaccine believe that teens – even armed with information about HPV – wouldn’t go the extra mile to choose the vaccination. Because we all know that “we” don’t talk about it. Sex, that is. Our culture doesn’t encourage parents to engage their children in authentic discussions about sexuality. Not ones that aren’t somehow mottled with religious or moral overtones, at least. We discuss outcomes, end results, numbers, what ifs, and should nots. And yes, these are indeed important. But are they all that is left of our ability to communicate and reason with one another?
Let’s get real with each other and with our children, opening them up to seek honest opinions, truths, and emotions about sex. How else can we expect them to make decisions with confidence, without the typical tinge of guilt or fear? “Here, get a shot, take a pill, good luck. Discussion over”. What about protecting their hearts and ability to make sound decisions? It seems we need a healthy dose of that.
I think we betray our children by not offering ourselves wholly and intentionally to them when it comes to these types of discussions.
And when it comes to sexuality, perhaps the truest form of prevention and protection are within our hearts and minds, not in needles and pills.