ATTENTION: The Fear of HPV is Not Preventing Teens From Having Sex

A bishop at a Catholic school in Canada has outlawed the Gardisil HPV vaccine for his students, under the archaic, broken logic that providing teens with the tools to protect themselves will only encourage them to bone.

Jul 3, 2012 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

image

While a tan line in a tube top may make you a skank (fine with it), protecting yourself from STDs does not.

Let me tell you about the time I worked for the Boys and Girls Club.

In general, my job at a small Teen Center in Vermont had very little to do with the organization – as a teeny tiny basement drop-in center we flew under the radar and somehow managed to maintain funding despite our blatant disobedience of some of the conservative policies and doctrine they aimed to enforce. Among those, strict abstinence and some pretty strong anti-gay sentiments.

My first day on the job was conveniently on the day of a BGC training on some new curriculum; it was also the day that I knew that I would adore everyone that I worked with. 

The training was led by a man wearing a FULL DENIM SUIT AND DENIM SHOES who had traveled all the way from Georgia to “teach” us the things that he “knew.” While I didn’t learn anything “true,” in it’s most commonly used definition, he did attempt to school us on the proper way to prevent STDs, which as everyone knows is to tell horny teenagers who don’t listen to authority to abstain from sex until marriage and provide no other solutions or information.

He asked us to raise our hands if our Teen Center distributed condoms, and about ½ the room did. He grinned as he asked if we were planning on returning our Boys and Girls Club funding, since endorsing safe sex was in violation of the BGC ideology, and making condoms available would only serve to encourage teens to have sex. He reminded us: “When two people lie together and a baby doesn’t happen, it’s a mistake.” I’m still working on re-hinging my jaw from the damage it incurred when it slammed onto the floor, upon hearing that gem.

A brave soul raised his hand and snarkily asked if this rule applied to gay people, to which Captain Asshole replied: “The Boys and Girls Club doesn’t talk about gay people.” Because I am incredibly professional and good at hiding my personal emotions in the workplace, I lost my shit and began cackling and slapping my knee, gasping for air.  I was relieved to look around and see that my entire table of new coworkers was laughing just as hard.

It took a good minute for the room to quiet, and once I had calmed down I raised my hand and tried to reason with the Denim Dipshit. I told him that condoms had been available in my high school, when I was still a virgin.  Since I am not one of Pavlov’s Dogs, seeing a pile of condoms in a bowl never gave me the urge to stuff a dick inside of me. [I used better language, promise.] I did that when I was good and ready, and thankfully the health center at my college had condoms on hand, so I was prepared to do it safely.

The Denim Douche never came around, though he did return after our break to give a half-assed apology. Who knows if he believed the propaganda he was spewing; I’ve worked for organizations long enough to know that people drink the Kool-Aid if it means getting ahead, but I’ve also met a lot of people who are working in conservative organizations and trying to turn the tide, which is encouraging. I’ve been lucky enough to work with many of these brave people, and I’m proud to count myself among them.

I tell you this story because last week I read a story about a Bishop in Canada who has outlawed the Gardisil HPV vaccine for his students, under the same archaic, broken logic that providing teens with the tools to protect themselves will only encourage them to bone. 

Now, I think if we know anything about teenagers, it’s that safety is their first concern when making a decision because of their seasoned sense of logic and ability to think about things in the long-term: Most times when Teens say no to sex, it’s only because they aren’t vaccinated against HPV yet! Not because the idea of being naked in front of someone for the first time is terrifying, or that it might hurt, or they want it to mean something, or they’re waiting until it “feels right,” they are thinking about how their increased risk of cervical cancer, like the little soulless robots that we all remember being as teenagers! Right?? I felt NOTHING for like 5 years, and was totally responsible!

Um, no.

Last time I checked, a Bishop who has taken a vow of celibacy is not the correct person to be making judgments about sexual self control: If you can make a promise to never have sex for your entire life, you’re not a normal human being, nor should you be the authority on sexual health.  The Bishop sent a letter home to parents urging them not to allow their daughters to be vaccinated because the vaccine would expose them to "counterproductive influences and potential abuse,” which ironically, is similar to the language often used to describe Catholic School. 

The “ideal” age to receive the HPV vaccine (and also the time period during which it is covered by health insurance) is between 9-26 years old. I never got the vaccine, and I regret it immensely, now. At the time, I was in a very long-term relationship with the man I thought I would marry, and so HPV wasn’t a concern for me – only, it was. Though I was faithful to my boyfriend, I was making the assumption that he was faithful to me, too.

We all want to make that assumption, but who knows for sure? I also assumed that I could see the future, and would have no more sexual partners and thus no need to worry. Now, many partners later, I’m at risk. The other assumption that I made was that all of the sex for the rest of my life would be consensual, which was also naïve.

Condoms aren’t effective in protecting against HPV, and in fact one of my good friends contracted it while using a condom. Abstinence isn’t effective either, because rape is more common than smoking in the US.   

All STDs are a huge bummer, but most do not lead to cancer. There’s a reason why no one makes a Crabs vaccine: The only permanent damage sustained from getting Crabs is a possibly highly-entertaining nickname. HPV can kill you.

Now, these are all arguments that I make while taking into consideration the faith-based logic that is so often a roadblock to progress in issues such as this. For an agnostic, liberal realist like myself though, the only necessary argument is this: Kids have sex. They have it. They experiment, and their population represents a much higher risk for pregnancy and STD because of the sheer nature of a teenager: They struggle to be responsible, they have short attention spans, they are often embarrassed to ask for what they want/need and would rather die than be seen as a nerd. 

This embarrassment is the reason why places like Teen Centers and Health Clinics have a condom bowl: It breaks down the barrier. It is also the reason why drugstores often keep condoms behind a counter or a locked cabinet: In general people (and specifically teens) would rather steal than have to look someone in the eye while they put your ribbed Trojans in a bag. I guess I’m not like most people, in that I enjoy winking emphatically as the clerk rings up my Magnum XL’s, and usually refuse the bag – but I’m almost 30. I’ve had years to develop this prophylactic swagger. I can imagine that it takes a lot of guts to even seek out Gardisil as a Teen, and those girls who do it should be applauded. Instead, they are being shamed. 

Bottom line: The girls in Bishop Frederick Henry’s school are having sex, whether he ignores it or not. They are having awkward, catholic-guilt-infused, sometimes non-consensual sex, and banning the HPV vaccine is only sending a message that they should be ashamed of themselves, hide what they are doing, not ask questions, and take their sexual health into their own hands, whether or not they have the information they need. If you’re read Yahoo! Answers at all, you’ll agree with me that it is a terrible idea for teenagers to look to the internet for advice.