Column: The HPVictory

By Lally Gartel

Pardon my use of the oldest media trick in the book, but let me just take a moment to talk about sex.

The past couple weeks of my life have been laden with sex. First Plan B becomes available over the counter for women over the age of 18. Then, last week, Brian Pierce admits to his sexual relationship with his boyfriend in a column about the importance of HIV testing. I learn that scientists have developed a vaccine for the Human Papillomavirus which is available at McKinley for $120. And, let’s not forget about the growing syphilis epidemic in the Champaign-Urbana area.

It is hard to know what to make of all of this. Stop having sex? Have more sex?

Well, the first thing to do is keep informed. Of all the sex news I have heard in the past week or two, the HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, vaccine deserves a lot more local media attention than I have seen it getting. HPV is a virus which is commonly known to cause genital warts, but its long term implications for women are far graver. HPV causes more than 70 percent of the cases of cervical cancer in women. While cervical cancer rates have gone down significantly since the mid 1990’s due to regular Pap smears, this type of cancer is still dangerous and prevalent.

According to the HPV fact sheet of the government’s Center for Disease Control Web site, “By age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired genital HPV infection.” This means that HPV is ever-present, and at today’s pace (about 6 million people acquire HPV every year), a very real threat.

I think the HPV vaccine should be advertised heavily. I think there should be funds dedicated to making it cheaper for low-income people to get access to the HPV vaccine. Above all, I think people who can afford it should get the vaccine as soon as possible.

But there are those among us who do not agree, and it is important to debunk the myths about sex education and morality in relation to vaccinations for sexually transmitted diseases. John Bambenek, a fellow columnist, disagrees with me about the spread of HPV vaccine propaganda. Why? As he puts it on his Weblog, Part-Time Pundit, “Instead of taming sexual behavior to deal with the risk of this disease, the medical community invents a vaccine so promiscuity can continue without consequences.”

This is precisely the attitude we should not have in relation to life-saving medical advancements. The medical community clearly did not invent the vaccine for the purposes of condoning promiscuity; Rather, the medical community has provided a method of having safer sex for those that choose to do so and has undeniably saved lives in the process. Not developing this vaccine so as not to “send the wrong message” is absurd reasoning when faced of the reality of cervical cancer for women who acquire HPV.

What commentators like John miss is the fact no matter how much your parents, the medical community, your church or your school tell you not to have sex, it is still going to happen. Regardless of whether we as individuals or as a society disapprove, pre and extra marital sex (approved of for men in earlier centuries) has been going on forever, and refusing to teach teenagers how to use condoms today will only ever exacerbate the associated dangers. We must keep informed, to understand that sex is risky, and not just to have it handed to us as a forever forbidden fruit.

The value of life, regardless of one’s religious beliefs, is unquestionable. Advances like the HPV vaccine, and hopefully one day the HIV vaccine, are steps in the right direction to ensuring that those of us who do have sex can do it safely and consensually with our husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends and whomever else.