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Surprise -- HPV vaccine doesn't make good girls go bad

October 16, 2012|By Patt Morrison
  • Australia launched the first-ever vaccine against HPV, the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, which causes an estimated 70% of cervical cancers. Controversy greeted the vaccine; critics worried that vaccinated young women would behave more sexually irresponsibly. A new study finds they don't.
Australia launched the first-ever vaccine against HPV, the sexually transmitted… (EPA / Mick Tsikas )

Wow. Can you believe it?

Tetanus vaccinations do not make children likelier to walk barefoot on rusty nails.

Masturbation does not cause blindness or hairy palms.

And girls who get the HPV vaccination to protect against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, the cause of 70% of cervical cancer, do not turn slutty because of it.

For this we actually had a study -- a sober, clinical response to the notional premise afoot in segments of American politics and culture that the vaccine, which can give young girls a lifetime’s protection from cervical cancer, loosens their morals. (Funny you don’t hear from people worried that the vaccine will make boys promiscuous. Why is that, I wonder?)

Emory University in Atlanta researchers, whose work was published in the journal Pediatrics, tracked the sexual behavior data of nearly 1,400 young girls, some of whom had been started on the vaccine and some of whom hadn’t, and found no difference in their sexual activity.

The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the HPV vaccine for girls and boys as young as age 11.

When California in 2007 debated a bill requiring girls to get the vaccine, Republican state Sen. George Runner argued that the money could be better spent on "someone who's in a health situation that has nothing to do with their personal choices."

A British antiabortion charity called LIFE had posted on its website a statement (which it later removed)  that the HPV vaccine "gives young people another green light to be promiscuous"and that the vaccine suggests girls "won’t be able to control themselves."

Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican congresswoman who sought the GOP presidential nomination, hammered Texas Gov. Rick Perry for wanting to require the vaccine in his state. On the strength of a complaint by one woman that the vaccine had caused "mental retardation" in the woman’s pre-teen daughter, Bachmann said the vaccine was dangerous. But some conservative groups, such as  Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, have characterized the vaccine as a significant advance, while making the point that it should be a family, not a government policy, choice.

But let it be said that facts never get in the way of fantasy. We will hear this notion again.

We still hear it about condoms and morning-after pills.

This attitude has been around for thousands of years, and resurfaced about 150 years ago. Queen Victoria gave birth to the last two of her nine children painlessly, thanks to what she called "that blessed chloroform."

Some of her more puritanical subjects did not agree. They quoted Genesis -- "in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children" -- to "prove" that God intended for women to suffer in childbirth to atone for Eve’s original sin and that painless delivery was against God’s will. To this day, some religious groups believe painkillers for childbirth are "demonic and reprehensible."

The same idea has been floated about treatment for venereal diseases, and for free condoms, and sex education: Knowing that premarital sex might not necessarily kill you or get you pregnant makes you immoral.

Really? For thousands of years, not a single human teenager ever thought about sex inappropriately, because they were mercifully free of those all those notions put in their head by sex education classes and free condoms?

Onetime GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum held rather the same sentiments. He says he doesn’t believe in birth control, that it’s "harmful" to society in general and women in particular, and, on an evangelical blog, said contraception was "not OK because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."

Remember that it was one of Santorum’s major donors, the wonderfully named Foster Friess, who suggested that the real contraceptive wasn’t the birth control pill but a Bayer aspirin held firmly between a girl’s knees.

After hearing nonsense like that, I have to take an aspirin and lie down.

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