Rather Off Topic

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.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Sarah says:

    Yeah! It reminds me of the ridiculous “war on drugs” that is so misguided and off base. Why are we so afraid to educate people? Must we always look for the quick fix in everything?

    After living in Europe for a few years I have come to realize that this is such an American philosophy. I am totally generalizing here and I can think of lots of different arenas where prevention is beginning to mean education and compassion but they are far and few between.

    I fully believe in giving children of all ages as much choice as possible. Of course we as parents set up the frameworks that help them to make healthy choices but I believe kids are capable of a lot more than we think. Especially teenagers. Their capacity to reason at high levels is often very under-estimated. But the only way they can develop these skills is to be given the opportunity to do so.

  2. this is a topic i’ve thought about writing about for some time too but it’s so involved that i’ve shied away from it. i’m glad to see you talking about it.

    i believe i read that the vaccine is only “good” for 5 years. so let’s just say that i got my 9 or 10 yr old vaccinated. by the time she’s an age when she might start having sex (god help me if she has sex before she’s 16), it wouldn’t even be “protecting” her anyway!

    i’m completely against this vaccine for numerous reasons, but i don’t think the general public is being informed properly about the vax or the risks/side effects. i hope that it’s only a matter of time before it’s taken off the shelves, but who knows if that will happen, despite the deaths and other horrible side effects. after all, it’s all about the benjamins.

  3. Phoenix says:

    I’m against this vaccine too.

    Let me explain. I was 14 when lost my virginity. Young and foolish, that phase of my life was. BUT I was smart. When I thought that there was possibly sex in my future, I had my mom take me to Planned Parenthood. I think, when it comes to this, there are no excuses. Everyone should cover their own dang butts. (Heck, any time I’m not trying to get pregnant, I was on the pill AND making my husband use condoms, LOL.) Guess what? When I was 16, I had HPV. You are not protected from HPV by using condoms. BUT, having sex too young can put you at risk for cervical cell changes as well. I had a series of abnormal paps before I got HPV. My mom did too. Why is this not mentioned in their ads?

    I shudder to think of the number of girls not taught to respect themselves enough to look after their own body. This shot will only make it worse. Parents will view it as a safety net and not think to teach them about STDs. And honestly, why ISN’T it available for boys? Where do you think I got HPV from? A boy. 😛

    Not to mention, they are still trying to say that smoking cigarettes causes cervical cancer… 😛 Since when has the government suddenly been so concerned for the state of my cervix? I’d rather them spend time working on ovarian cancer, personally.

  4. Leigh, thank you for voicing what I had previously been unable to say. I am so opposed to this vaccine, but when it comes to stuff like this my brain shrivels up to the size of a pea and refuses to THINK. I know how *I* feel, but when it comes to writing or talking about it, well … it’s all just too much. But you summed it up so perfectly:

    “What about protecting their hearts and ability to make sound decisions? It seems we need a healthy dose of that.”


    “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.”

    I couldn’t have said it better if I’d tried. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  5. Jeanette says:

    My reaction was as deep and as strong as yours Leigh. I echo the chorus of women thanking you for articulating what has been circulating in my head and heart.

    One other important point on this vaccine is the cost – at $300 -$500 for the series – this is a vacccine for the rich/insured. If it were really so necessary, so important, so foolproof – then what about all those girls who just cannot afford to get the shot? (of course, that’s also an argument about universal health care).

    Then there is the whole idea that the approval was fast-tracked, and the active lobby efforts of the manufacturer

    “Merck announced that it would suspend lobbying states to require girls – as young as 11 – to submit to Gardasil, the HPV “vaccine”. Yes, Merck was actively lobbying States to require girls as young as 9 to buy their product.”

    And this:
    “The FDA allowed Merck to use a potentially reactive aluminum containing placebo as a control for most trial participants, rather than a non-reactive saline solution placebo.[1] A reactive placebo can artificially increase the appearance of safety of an experimental drug or vaccine in a clinical trial. Gardasil contains 225 mcg of aluminum and, although aluminum adjuvants have been used in vaccines for decades, they were never tested for safety in clinical trials. Merck and the FDA did not disclose how much aluminum was in the placebo.[2]”


  6. mb says:

    It’s all about the money, honey.

    sad. sad. sad.

  7. Isabel says:

    Thoughtful as always.
    Your voice is so uniquely your own and I love being on the receiving end.

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