When the UK Government first decided to provide the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to all girls it was met with opposition from those who claimed that it would 'fuel promiscuity'. Of course this is nonsense and everyone who works in sexual health with young people said so at the time.
Either the vaccinations would be given with no explanation to the girls of the fact that HPV is a sexually transmitted infection in which case most girls would make no connection – either positive or negative – between the vaccine and sexual activity OR – obviously the option we favoured – the vaccination programme would be used as an opportunity to do some sexual health promotion. This work would:
- celebrate the fact that this vaccine could prevent the majority of deaths from cervical cancer
- encourage girls to have regular pap or 'smear' tests once they are old enough
- talk about minimising risk factors for other cancers and the importance of regular breast checks for adult women and testicular checks for men
- outline the risks for men of contracting HPV
- emphasise that the vaccination does not give them protection against any of the other panoply of STIs or, of course, against pregnancy.
Today this article reports on schools that are not providing the vaccination because ‘their pupils follow strict Christian principles and do not have sex outside marriage’. So, first the vaccination was rejected because it would promote unsafe sexual behaviour and now it is rejected because pupils in some schools don’t need it as they will definitely not have sex outside of marriage.
Even if it was true that girls who commit to chastity in their early teens don’t ever end up having pre-marital or extra-marital sex (clue: it isn’t), it doesn’t take account of the fact that an abstinent girl can be raped, can be coerced into sex, or can marry a man who has previously had sex and is infected with HPV.
Approximately 1,000 women in the UK die each year from cervical cancer. Clearly the schools that are rejecting the vaccination think that this is a risk worth taking....
Mothers and adolescents' beliefs about risk compensation following HPV vaccination