September 19, 2011

What a Vaccine Has to Do with Sexual Shaming

Village Voice
The attacks from conservative hold against the HPV vaccine have gotten vaccine advocates in a tizzy. But the wider reaching problems with the attacks is how they pertain to the belief that vaccines and education about them lead to promiscuity.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection and the cause of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is on the rise, yet efforts to inform about HPV and get girls vaccinated against HPV are faced with opposition.

In response, Village Voice launched a campaign to promote information about HPV and provide support for the women at risk:
In an effort to increase communication about a virus most people don't know enough about -- and many women are too ashamed to talk about, even though pretty much every woman we know has dealt with it at some point in her life, maybe more than once, and even though it can cause cancer, and therefore we should know as much as we can about it -- let's open up a little on Twitter. Because if we all come out and say it, how ashamed can we possibly be? We're talking about the sexually transmitted virus HPV, which has been in the news a lot lately regarding a certain vaccine that Michele Bachmann is very much against.

But this post is not to debate the politics of the vaccine or anything else: It's simply to get the word out. Tomorrow: Tweet, Facebook, or simply tell someone -- we don't care how! -- that you have had, or currently have, HPV.
Tell them as much or as little as you want to share. Choose who you tell. Maybe you don't want to Tweet it -- maybe you don't even use Twitter. Maybe you don't want to put it on your Facebook page. Fine. We're not going to be pushy, and it's your body, after all. Do it when you're ready. But do it tomorrow!
Wouldn't you feel fine, minus the illness, telling someone you had or have a cold, or even, say, pneumonia? Why does this virus, simply because it's obtained through sexual contact (which, by the way, if you've had any of whatsoever, you've been at risk for HPV -- whether you're a woman, man, in a monogamous relationship, engaging in safe/vaginal/oral sex, or otherwise), have to be imbued with shame and secrecy?
Picking up the baton, one woman wrote this on Facebook:
I remember when my doctor told me I had it several years ago. I freaked out, because I didn't know a goddamn thing about it or how common it was. Thank you, abstinence education! *grumble*

And a man posted this on Facebook:
Years ago, I unwittingly passed it on to others, which is how -- like so many men - I found out about it. It's not about shame, it's about education. I honor this campaign.

Even in my native Norway, otherwise known for its long history in promoting comprehensive sex education, information about the HPV virus is lacking among youth. Only since 2009, have all girls in seventh grade been offered the vaccine against the virus.

This is what I wrote on Facebook:
When I was 26 and had just started a new job in a new town as a college professor, I was told I had "precancerous tissue" on my cervix. All I could hear was cancer. But all my now former boyfriend could do, was shame me for an infection I had never even heard about.

Village Voice's "Tweet That You Have Had HPV Day" was Friday before the weekend, but it's never a bad timing for opening up about something that affects so many of us, yet continues to shame us.

HPV facts from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
Genital human papillomavirus (also called HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat. Most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it.

HPV is not the same as herpes or HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). These are all viruses that can be passed on during sex, but they cause different symptoms and health problems.

Most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from it. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years.

HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. HPV can be passed on between straight and same-sex partners—even when the infected partner has no signs or symptoms.

A person can have HPV even if years have passed since he or she had sexual contact with an infected person. Most infected persons do not realize they are infected or that they are passing the virus on to a sex partner. It is also possible to get more than one type of HPV.


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