Saturday, 17 December 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Older and Wiser

To return for a moment to the vaccination debate:

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I'm a bit hesitant to write this due to its sensitive nature, but I feel that I must.

I'm not sure what conservative Christians (Catholic and Protestant) have against the HPV vaccination, but I strongly think that they should reconsider their positions. Unlike condoms or birth control pills, there isn't a moral prohibition against vaccinations. On the contrary, the vaccination protects the life of the girl and preserves her potential to give life to children.

I don't buy the argument that getting the girl the vaccine signals to her that it's okay to have sex whenever she wants. Hormones aside, 15 year old girls aren't complete idiots, and they are capable of understanding preventive measures taken in case of a mistake versus parental approval of said mistake. What that does require is a parental conversation with the kid about sex, which I think the real reason they've come up with such a shoddy argument. 

In my experience the sex ed in Christian circles is abysmal. The real reason condoms don't protect against HPV? It's spread by skin on skin contact, not bodily fluids like most of the others. Which means that "technical virgins" can actually get HPV. When's the last time you heard that discussed? I'm sure I've never heard that from any Christian source, and I've been around for awhile. Yeah, I'm sure it would be nice if teenagers didn't have sex before marriage, but many do, and they are the most vulnerable ones due to their age.

Aside from teenage promiscuity, there's all sorts of reasons to vaccinate. There's sexual assault, and having the vaccination is just one less thing to worry about in that case. Also, you mentioned that the guy the girl one day marries may not have been perfect in his past. There's no test to take, and there's usually no symptoms for the guy. The best protection for the girl is to get vaccinated. Vaccinating early is best because it is most effective before sexual activity. Also, I'm not sure how the NHS works, but insurance in the US only pays for the vaccine if you are in the appropriate age range.

Which brings the topic to me. You see, I once thought I didn't need the vaccine when I was younger, for many of the same reasons I hear on conservative news and blogs. Now I wish I had taken the opportunity, because when I reconsidered I was out of the age range and couldn't afford it without insurance. I made a mistake, and now I have HPV, even though I was a really really good girl for many years. Luckily I don't have cancer, but pap smears every 6 months is no picnic. I'm not feeling sorry for myself, I just wish I had been wiser. No one knows the future, and even the best NCG can't guarantee that she'll never slip up once. Speaking from experience, the best method is to protect yourself, and that includes getting vaccinations against a very common disease.

Sorry for the long email, I just have strong views on this topic. Christians often talk about being cautious and protecting ourselves in regards to many other topics, and they should protect their girls against HPV.

-Older and Wiser

Dear Older and Wiser,

Thank you very much for your email.  I didn't know that conservative Christians had anything against HPV vaccinations, unless it is part of a general distrust for Big Government and anything having to do with sex education or the patronizing idea that teenagers "will just do it anyway."

I think that maybe there is a learning curve, not just for the Christian community but for any public health body that needs to get across the idea that an HPV vaccination is not dirty or a statement that a girl can become promiscuous now. When my father said he wished his (now too old) daughters could have got the HPV vaccination, I was very angry with him because I thought he was suggesting something pessimistic about us. However, my father has a friend whose daughter died of cervical cancer, and this affected him very much.  

Thus your arguments are very good. An HPV vaccination is not a mark of dishonour for any 15 year old girl but a recognition that she could catch HPV from any man, including her husband. And I think any public health body should get that idea across instead of dumb posters with a teenage girl with her head tilted to one side with "Am I ready for sex?" in a thought bubble over her head.  

I hope I may publish your email, as I would like other girls to read it. Meanwhile, I am sorry you have HPV, and I hope it clears completely out of your system. From my reading, it appears that it usually does. 

Grace and peace,

P.S. to all: Once again, I am not a doctor, and I don't know if I would have my 15 year old daughter vaccinated, if I had one. (Ask your doctor if she would.)

It is not guaranteed that any of us will get HPV, and I am (rightly or wrongly) suspicious of all new "magic bullet" drugs and vaccinations because of what happened to the "DES Daughters" and the poor people exposed to thalidomide. All I can say is that it is your parents' and/or your decision. And, incidentally, I see that boys can be inoculated for it, too. Interesting that the burden of responsibility for sexual health has ONCE AGAIN been placed on women.

By the way, as a twice-married middle-aged lady, I get a cervical smear myself. The National Health Service in Scotland advises that women have this done every two years.


healthily sanguine said...

The can of worms is open here, so I'm just going to nitpick: "[E]ven the best NCG can't guarantee that she'll never slip up once." Well, actually, you can. You can continue to make reasoned choices, surround yourself with people you trust, stay out of risky situations, and TAKE SEX OFF THE TABLE. This is not an impossible ideal, this has to be part of our lives. The problem with HPV is a symptom of a wider problem, a problem of disbelief that abstinence is possible, for girls as well as for guys. I'm never going to make a choice, about vaccination or about anything else, predicated upon the thought that I may commit such and such mortal sin--to do so would put me on a slippery slope to self-deception (oh, I'm basically a good girl but you never know when I might do drugs, so I should always carry a clean needle . . . ?!).

That said, the point about HPV is a sobering one. It is something you could catch from your husband, after marriage, as well as from (God forbid) a sexual attack. It is one of the sad, sad things about our culture that some are made to suffer because of others' sins, and this would be a prime example. But yeah, promiscuity is seriously wrong and, though I feel sympathy with those who have cervical cancer (especially with Hilary, who is amazing), I don't know if innoculating ourselves against sexually transmitted disease really addresses that main point. You can vaccinate against HPV, but there will be plenty of other diseases and plenty of other risks that come along with the promiscuous lifestyle.

Holly said...

Did you consider that even if a woman isn't planning to have sex, she may still be sexually abused or raped at some point in her life? It's something like 1 in 3 or 4 women who are sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Choices, good or bad, aren't the whole story.

Holly said...

Ok, you did mention that in the second paragraph. My apologies.

Mrs Doyle said...

Thanks to Older and Wiser for allowing us to read her views, very informative.

But to be fair Healthily Sanguine, sin exists. And all the best intentions can and do fail in the moment of temptation. That's what fallen human nature is all about. That's not to say that it's a forgone conclusion, it's not - but sin happens!

No matter how 'nice' a NCG may be, being a Catholic doesn't make us immune to temptations of any sort, and putting ourselves out as being beyond the reaches of sin would probably set us up to fail.

Bear in mind too, that the writer need only have given into temptation once (hardly the definition of promiscuity I would have thought) to have been exposed to HPV.

Sheila said...

A couple of facts about the HPV vaccine:

1. There are risks, and it may not be adequately tested. Several girls have died from it, and others have had life-altering side effects (paralysis, etc.). There are some radical free-sex feminists who still aren't getting their daughters the vaccine for this reason.

2. It does not protect against all strains of HPV -- so you will *still* need to get your regular pap smears and worry just as much as you would otherwise.

So, would I have my daughter get it? Probably not. At the same time, if she wanted it, I wouldn't be upset or offended. If she was willing to accept the risk of the shot, I would let her get it. This is one of those things that simply MUST be talked about with one's daughter. I don't want her heading into the world not knowing what HPV is.

healthily sanguine said...

A fair point, Mrs. Doyle, having premarital sex once isn't the same as living a promiscuous lifestyle. At the same time, though, the attitude that it's JUST "giving into temptation once" bothers me, because it seems there are so many things leading up to that, to a sexual encounter, that a girl especially should be able to control: going out with a certain kind of guy, impure talk or gestures, going to places where you're going to be completely private, etc. And we, as women, have a strong inclination to THINK about these kind of things, as this blog itself bears witness; we can and will analyze almost anything guys do, so why is this any different? If a girl is truly "nice" (by which I hope we mean good) and truly Catholic, all the stereotypical chastity talk stuff will have sunk in to the point where it's not on a different track from the life you actually lead. And that's because if it's important to you not to offend God by committing a mortal sin, you will seriously strive not even to put yourself in any kind of situation where it would become tantalizingly easy to do so. In fact, I think that's what makes this such a serious, grave sin: you really do have to will for it to happen, it doesn't "just happen" in a moment of passion. It would be more important to me to teach my daughter how to regulate her emotions/passions to keep her life focused on obeying God's will than to educate her on the multiplicity of sexually transmitted diseases, though I would certainly not omit the latter.

healthily sanguine said...

Upon reflection, I am speaking from the perspective of the "wiser" mid-to-late twenties. Teenagers/early twenties are in a much more difficult spot, being more curious and less fully rational in a lot of ways. That's why I believe parents should talk about sex and sexual morality with their teenagers, a lot. The more they do, and the less comfortable it is for everyone, the less desire/excuse the teen will have for any kind of experimentation. Demolish ignorance, not innocence. Oh yeah, and monitor the heck out of movies! Don't even allow TV. Two very simple ways to help your child (and yourself, for that matter) NOT to develop a sexual imagination.

healthily sanguine said...

In case this isn't coming across, the "margin of error" for Catholic women nowadays is 0. It was probably always 0, but it's especially 0 now, because we are NOT going to walk around with a condom in our purse and any "giving into temptation" sex we have will probably not include condoms, which are the only thing that might *possibly* prevent against sexually transmitted diseases (and certainly no guarantee even there). Pregnancy is not even the worst thing that can happen; pregnancy is a blessing. HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer, the less-deadly but also serious infections are all real risks, and the more promiscuous everyone ELSE is, the higher the risk is for everyone. We cannot afford to think of premarital (and also, in fact, marital) sex as anything less than a big deal.

Catholic men, likewise, should view the matter with sobriety.

Betsy said...

Thank you, Older & Wiser, for that email! I agree that Christians should be educated about HPV and STDs in general. I understand that it's uncomfortable to talk about this kind of thing with one's children, but I think it's an important thing to do. Everyone deserves to know the risks.

Sexual sins are very tempting, even if you're a good Catholic, and I don't think many of us can guarantee that we will never succumb. This is especially true of HPV, since it is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. (I didn't know that before!) Anyway, I don't think that getting the vaccine should be seen as a "license to sin."

Sheila, thanks for the info on the risks of the vaccine! I thought I remembered you saying it could be dangerous, but I couldn't remember the details.

Mrs Doyle said...

Healthily Sanguine, you are absolutely right, the road to a mortal sin is littered with venial sins! And one can't commit a sin unless there is a choice made - yes I will, no I won't.

There's no two ways about it, giving into temptation and committing a sin is just that, a sin. No matter the type.

But the one difficulty which will always attach itself to sin which signifies the struggle is that sin (of any kind) is very attractive!!! That's why it's such a struggle sometimes.

My imagination is running at top speed thinking of all the relatively harmless run ups to saying yes. Emotions and feelings can start to run the night for you, whatever your age. These decisions are rarely made in a cold and clinical manner.

Yes having premarital sex is a big deal because it's usually a sin, but don't forget all the other sins out there - we're capable of them all!

For all the scary news stories about the HPV vaccine, it's a vaccine and all vaccines and medicines carry risks. Sometimes we forget that.

Emma said...

I was vaccinated a few years ago against HPV, not because I wanted a license to go around and sin, but because I realized that 1 I may marry a man who has been sexually active before marriage and carries HPV and 2 If (God forbid!) I am ever raped, I want one less thing to worry about it.

Yes, there are risks with vaccines. There were risks with the smallpox vaccine too, but people felt it was worth the risk.

Charming Disarray said...

Apparently men can get a different kind of cancer from HPV. Interesting article: