HPV and the Dialogue of Sexuality


In the 2007 Texas legislative session, Governor Perry issued an executive order that would require all schoolgirls to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection that has the potential to lead to cervical cancer and genital warts. This move by Perry led to months of bitter dialogue between the governor and the legislature. Perry even made national headlines in February of 2007 after heissued this order.  No one could believe that a socially conservative Republican governor would actually propose such an idea.

Why, do you ask, was this order so controversial?  I could point to many reasons why Texans found this order so controversial. First, the order took away parental discretion.  Second, the vaccine Gardasil had only been on the market for a year and little was known about the sideeffects.  But, the reason why I believe so many were shocked that Perry would propose such an order, was because they believed by giving schoolgirls the HPV vaccine promiscuity would be encouraged.

 In 2006, Bridget Maher from the Family Research Council was quoted in Time saying  "giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex."  Yes, people actually believed that after vaccinating 9 year-old girls these girls would all go out and have loads of sex because now they had nothing to worry about.  Mind you, if Texas simply had a policy of teaching accurate comprehensive sex education in public schools, these young girls would know that HPV is one of many STIs that can be contracted during sexual activity.  But, the failure ofabstinence-only education is a topic for another day.

What I am getting at is this.  This dialogue of promiscuity all seems a little too archaic.  If you look beyond the surface, Gardasil in this dialogue is portrayed as a threat to girls"virginity" and "purity."  Gardasil, if injected into a young girl, may cause that girl to lose her chasteness, thus harming the morality of society. Could this discourse be any more constrictive of sexuality?

Actually, yes.  Last Wednesday, an FDA advisory committee voted to recommend approval of the vaccine Gardasil for males ages 9 to 26 to prevent genital warts.  Although talks about offering the Gardasil vaccine to men have been rumored for some time, this vote is the first real step towards offering the vaccine for males. Since the onset of significant dialogue around young boys receiving the Gardasil vaccination, with the publication of Jan Hoffman’s New York Times article "Vaccinating Boys for Girls’ Sake?" in 2008, there has been no rhetoric about boys and the threat of promiscuity. I believe that this lack of promiscuity dialogue perpetuates sexuality norms for men, just as the"purity" overtones perpetuate sexuality norms for women.

The lack of the threat of promiscuity in the discourse around young boys and Gardasil upholds the idea that a young man participating in sex is something to be proud of, similar to a trophy on a mantle place.  And, that sex for boys at a young age is a right of passage, all, once again, quite archaic ideas.

I’ll admit that the conversation is still fresh and maybe inthe coming months, the conservative cohorts will come out waving the banner of promiscuity, but I wouldn’t bet money on it.  That would be too progressive, by going against sexuality norms for men.  But, maybe, I should be more optimistic.  If Rick Perry can surprise me, then maybe any one can.

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  • feminazi

    This kind of conversation always begs the question, too: who are these boys having sex with? If it’s completely socially acceptable for them to have sex (straight sex, naturally), then they must be having sex with SOME girls. I guess those aren’t the girls they marry, right? Those are the ones that are there for “sowing the wild oats.”