HPV vaccine reminds girls of sexual risks

Despite conservative hysteria, a study finds the shot doesn't erase youngsters' fear of STDs


Tracy Clark-Flory
October 30, 2009 4:25AM (UTC)

Remember all the conservatives who swore the HPV vaccine would give girls free license to go buck wild?  How they argued that inoculating girls against a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer -- a disease that kills more than 4,000 women each year -- would be harmful because it would rid youngsters of their deathly fear of premarital sex? Well, I wonder how they'll respond to a new study that arrives at the opposite conclusion -- that getting vaccinated actually reinforces the risks of having sex.

Researchers from the University of Manchester surveyed more than 500 local girls age 12 and 13 who were offered the vaccine. A whopping 79 percent said that getting the shot reminded them about the risks of having sex, while 14 percent reported that they might take more sexual risks as a result. Unsurprisingly, 93 percent said that getting vaccinated showed that they took their own health seriously.

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The results in no way provide a definitive answer to how the vaccine will affect girls' and women's sex lives, and it's worth viewing the study with a skeptical eye for a couple of reasons. First off, it was funded by GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of the HPV vaccine Cervarix. The company has an invested interest in convincing parents that the vaccine won't turn their daughters into man-eating sex zombies, which seems to be the assumed result of making sex less deadly. Second, this isn't a long-term comprehensive study of how the shot actually affects girls' sex lives. Instead, the findings are based on pubescent girls' response to whether getting vaccinated made them think about the risks of sex (you'd sure think it would, seeing as that's why they're getting the damn shot) and their predictions of their future sexual behavior (let's just say the study participants do not belong to an age group known for mature foresight).

But even if you give the study more credence than it deserves, it's rather stunning that some members of the British media have managed to pervert the findings to mean that the vaccine will make girls have riskier sex, as a Daily Mail headline puts it. Even the Telegraph manages to hold its own against the queen of trash, boldly declaring: "Cervical cancer jab would 'make girls more promiscuous.'" Isn't it great how they absolve themselves of any responsibility for misrepresenting the study's findings by using quote marks in their headline? Better still, the quoted text isn't found anywhere in the piece.

There aren't many reliable conclusions to come to from all this, but at least one thing is clear: Some people find girls' sexuality more viscerally threatening than even cancer.


Tracy Clark-Flory

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