Death or “Promiscuity”? May 20, 2007Posted by jsaffold in HPV vaccine, in the news, sexual power, women's health.
In a country with a national agenda in support of cancer research and treatment, the controversy that has erupted around the release of the HPV vaccine seems counterintuitive. The invention of a vaccine that protects against 70 percent of the strains of HPV that are known to cause cervical cancer seems like it should be regarded as a great stride not just in the world of medicine, but in the world of women’s health. Some states have tried to make the vaccination a requirement amongst preteen girls (Virginia is the only one who has actually done this), but as this MSNBC article explains, a move to require the vaccine under Georgia law was shot down after “religious conservatives” aggressively opposed the law.
Opposition to making the vaccine required under law has many different facets; the religious conservative perspective is that protecting girls from a disease that can only be contracted by sexual activity promotes “promiscuity.” Others believe that parents should be able to choose whether their daughters receive the vaccination or not as opposed to the state lawmakers. Other countries such as Australia have already approved administration of the vaccine as a requirement; in Australia, all 13 year old girls in Australia must have the vaccine. So why haven’t we jumped on the HPV vaccine bandwagon in the U.S.?
The answer is complicated. To me, it seems like somewhere along the way the goal of preventing death by cancer has gotten lost and the concern is more about preserving young girls’ innocence and condemning sexual activity. Doesn’t the religious conservative perspective suggest that HPV is only contracted by promiscuous girls? Promiscuity has nothing to do with contraction of HPV–according to the Center for Disease Control, 80 percent of women will contract HPV infection by the age of 50. The assumption is that the security of being protected by the vaccine will induce girls to sleep around without a care. The invention of this new vaccine seems, to me, a powerful way for girls and women to take control of their own health. Suggesting that the vaccine will cause promiscuity also suggests that girls don’t have the power or agency to make smart decisions about their own sexual activity. While I can understand the argument that parents should be able to decide what is administered to their children, I can’t see very many parents turning down something that could save their daughter’s life one day. It seems contradictory and dangerous that a consumerist culture like ours, which targets young girls with sexualized dolls and television shows, would at the same time not take measures to protect them.