Well Being

The HPV Vaccination: One More Way That Safe Sex Has Become Women’s Work

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Today, Reuters reported that, according to the Center for Disease Control, too few girls and young women are receiving the Gardasil vaccination, which protects against the human papillomavirus (HPV), and that there are many steps to be taken to ensure that more females are protected from the virus, which can lead to cervical cancer and other diseases. What neither Reuters, nor the CDC, nor almost any other news organization ever mentions is that boys can be vaccinated, too.

It irritates me to no end that the HPV vaccination is one more area of sexual health that is foisted upon women. And while it is true that women tend to see more health complications from HPV (which has over 100 strains, many of which are harmless, but many of which also can comprise immunity and cause cancer), women wouldn't be getting the virus if men weren't also carrying it and transmitting it. There simply aren't that many lesbians in the world.

HPV, by the way, isn't just sexually transmitted. It's not just a disease for loose ladies, and the shot doesn't imply that a girl intends to have multiple partners–HPV can be passed from skin-to-skin contact, including kissing. Which means even those who abstain from sex or always use protection are still at risk.

Additionally, multiple studies in the past few years have made it clear that HPV can actually be pretty detrimental to men–it's one of the leading causes of throat cancer–if they are infected and don't receive treatment. Which many don't, because for most carriers, HPV has few or no symptoms at all.

But even if men never, ever got sick from HPV, and simply carried it and transmitted it to their partners, the idea that only women need to be vaccinated is simply untrue, because men still move the disease around. And yet, doctors, Merck (the drug manufacturer who, by the way, stands to make more money if they market the drug to boys, too), and the CDC all continue to press the vaccination on girls, specifically. Because they're the ones who get sick, so they're the ones who need to protect themselves. Many parents don't even realize that vaccinating their sons is a choice.

Sex columnist Dan Savage recently commented on this matter in a podcast, noting that, regardless of whether or not men are at risk of complications due to HPV, vaccinating young men against the shot is clearly a way to reduce the prevalence of the disease. He also noted that his own teenage son has been vaccinated for that reason.

Of course, vaccinations are controversial–who can forget Michele Bachmann‘s totally baseless claim that some women once told her that her daughter may have become mentally retarded from a vaccination–but there have yet to be any complications that can be explicitly traced to the Gardasil shot, including any sort of mental ailments. The vaccinations which were first targeted for potentially causing autism are for entirely different diseases, contain different drugs, and were also proven not to hinder the mental capacity of children. Additionally, Gardasil is given much later in life–between the age of 11 and 15, usually–which makes them much less likely to leave lasting developmental damage.

Placing the sole responsibility of vaccination of young women is absurd, regardless of how you feel about the vaccine. In fact, if you're on the fence about potential health risks which may come with Gardasil, the assumption that only women should have to take those risks to protest themselves seems even more obtuse. Men may or may not experience the same cancer rates as women as a result of HPV, but as long as men want to kiss or sleep with women, they should be expected to get vaccinated, too.

Image: Goodluz / Shutterstock

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