This is what a very loving mother told a good friend of mine. You see, we were in college when the immunization for HPV started becoming well-known and recommended. Our parents, like many other parents in today’s time, were scared of this vaccine—scared that vaccinating their daughters for HPV would somehow lead their daughters to be sexually active—and were angry that the government was “assuming” that their young daughters “needed” that vaccine.
So we didn’t get the vaccine. We didn’t need it. We weren’t having sex. We were good girls, and we were saving ourselves for marriage.
The thing that neither our parents nor us accounted for, is that sometimes bad people can take away that choice from good girls.
I re-posted an excellent post from Share MayFlowers last week regarding sexual abuse. Did you know that 1 in 3 women worldwide is raped, beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime? That is a staggering statistic. And what about in the United States? It is estimated that 20-30% of women are sexually abused prior to the age of 18! Can you imagine what the statistics are after the age of 18?
The Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the leading cause of cervical cancer as well as genital warts. It is also known to cause other cancers impacting the head and neck, mouth, penis and anus. The HPV vaccine protects against the four main strands of this virus which are known to cause cancer. The CDC estimates that 20 million Americans are infected with HPV—and another 6 million become infected each year. Often the virus clears on its own, however, certain strands of the virus can become deadly to men and women alike. In 2006, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that all girls aged 11-12 receive the HPV vaccine and allowed women up to the age of 26 to also receive a catch-up vaccination. Their thought behind this recommendation was to administer the vaccine prior to the onset of any sexual activity and thus prevent infection from occurring. It seems to make sense, but then, why were only 49% of girls vaccinated in 2010?
Well, many loving parents and other community groups are worried that vaccinating young girls will lead to greater promiscuity. That their young daughters will see the vaccine as permission to engage in sexual activity without consequences. Or that their daughters would mistakenly think that the vaccine protected from all STIs or even from pregnancy.
Valid concerns…but do they have any founding?
Research actually suggests no. A very interesting article by NBC News discusses this very issue. You can read the full article here. The key study discussed in this article was one published in 2010 by Robert Bednarczyk and colleagues in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. This study looked back at 1398 girls who had been vaccinated for HPV and examined their sexual activity 3 years later. They actually found no difference in sexual activity, pregnancy or STIs between vaccinated girls and non vaccinated girls! The vaccinated girls were NOT more likely to engage in sex than their peers nor did they have a higher likelihood of pregnancy or any other STIs!
Will this be enough to convince concerned parents to vaccinate their daughters? It should. Because even if your daughter is a great girl, a conservative girl, a girl who you know will not engage in sexual activity—sometimes things happen.
Life went on since the immunization was first recommended, and we were fine. That is until one day. My friend was raped that day. By a man she knew. She had never had sexual intercourse to that point, and was not wanting to change that. But he chose for her. It was devastating on so many levels. 2 months after that day, my friend developed genital warts—HPV. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. But it happened. She had to be treated by freezing them off and changing up her diet. We were thankful she didn’t have cervical cancer, but that didn’t make it easier. She was vaccinated that same day.
What if she had been vaccinated earlier?
Bednarczyk RA, Davis R, Ault K, Orenstein W, Omer SB. Sexual activity-related outcomes after human papillomavirus vaccination of 11- to 12-year-olds. Pediatrics. 2012 Nov;130(5):798-805.
Written By: Jessica Powley PT, DPT