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Surprise: Gardasil does not make women mindless sex machines!

October 28, 2009

Feministing’s got a new study from the UK that shows that–drum roll please!–girls who receive the Gardasil vaccine against HPV say it makes them think more about risks in sexual behavior.

Here’s the piece of the study quoted by Feministing:

One in five of the 12 and 13-year-olds polled by the University of Manchester team thought the vaccine was embarrassing because it is for a sexually-transmitted infection – human papillomavirus, or HPV.

But, 79% of the girls said having the vaccination reminded them of the possible risks of sexual contact and 93% said it showed they were serious about their own health.

How about that? Actually offering young people the opportunity to feel responsible for their sex lives, and to take responsibility for their sex lives makes them, well, more responsible! Isn’t it a horribly pessimistic worldview that assumes that individuals are so totally uninterested in their own health that teaching them about it will cause them to make risky, unhealthful decisions?

Just more evidence that everyone is best served when they have access to accurate information and are empowered to use it to keep themselves safe and happy.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2009 10:34 PM

    Hmm — to me, that is indicative that it’s a bad idea to make Gardasil part of the battery of vaccinations given to infants and toddlers. I’ve been told (admittedly by a religious conservative, so take with appropriate level of salt) that when she took her baby daughter to the pediatrician for vaccinations, the doctor wanted to give her the HPV vaccination at that time along with measles, mumps, rubella, etc.

    Given that doctors already try to push a large number of vaccinations at once (for understandable reasons: altruistically, they’re worried that the future appointments won’t happen, or will happen too late after the child has been exposed, so better to get it all knocked out at once; selfishly, in order to get the full insurance reimbursement without having to expend more time on the patient), and Garadasil’s being somewhat controversial and presumably unnecessary until adolescence, the finding that it also can be a “teachable moment” for girls who are old enough to understand what sex is strikes me as pretty much sealing the deal on having this vaccination wait until 4th grade enrollment.

    • Jill permalink
      October 28, 2009 10:49 PM

      I think that’s a great point, PG.

      On the other hand, stepping aside from the doctor’s self-interest at play there, do you think it’s problematic to hold off on a vaccine that could be very important to girls who experience childhood sexual abuse?

  2. October 29, 2009 10:03 AM

    Jill,

    I admittedly don’t know anyone (or rather, don’t know that I know anyone) who was sexually abused pre-adolescence in a way that would transmit HPV; the women I know who were abused at such a young age were molested through inappropriate fondling rather than rape. So I don’t have even an anecdotal guess at whether sexual abuse of a form that would transmit HPV is common enough to make the benefits of getting babies immunized against HPV outweigh the benefits of the “teachable moment,” i.e. mandating the immunization at an age where girls are old enough to understand what it’s supposed to do.

    Do you have any reliable statistics on rates of pre-adolescent sexual molestation to help inform the discussion?

    HPV is of course desirable to avoid, but its effects are not so commonly severe that I’d be sure it’s worth dealing with the combined antagonism of the vaccine-staggering hippies and HPV-skeptical conservatives by adding it to the list of vaccines given to babies.

  3. Jill permalink
    October 29, 2009 10:54 AM

    I was looking last night for some numbers to contextualize this, and I didn’t find any that made a distinction among kinds of sexual abuse. If I’m reading this table correctly, though, we’re looking at about 50,000 substantiated cases of childhood sexual abuse each year in the U.S. While without a doubt, any number is too high, at this rate, I think your analysis of where the most good can be done is totally right.

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