Human papillomavirus — or HPV — is the most common sexually-transmitted disease in the U.S., with the CDC reporting 79 million current infections and 14 million new infections each year. I account for one of those numbers. Every day, I live with the knowledge that I could someday develop cervical cancer, and I could have prevented this risk by accepting a recommended vaccine that I was too conservative to take.
Public health officials are adamant that increased HPV vaccination rates will drastically reduce rates of infection — and ultimately, the occurrence of life-threatening cancers. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the most recent CDC data, vaccination rates are abysmally low. This means that an entire generation of teens and young adults are still at risk for the spread of this deadly virus. But why? Why aren't parents insisting that their teenagers get the Gardasil vaccination?
Frankly, I cringe when I hear parents opining about why they resist the facts about HPV and its prevention through Gardasil. Most of their reasoning is directly related to antiquated beliefs about human sexuality, particularly the sexuality of teenage girls and young women. Parents seem to think that the Gardasil vaccine will encourage teen sex and will reduce the consequences of having numerous sexual partners — thus encouraging young people to hop into bed for an orgy of pleasure without risk.
I'm here to tell you that these beliefs are completely and totally bunk. First of all, a study conducted by Cincinnati Children's Hospital found that Gardasil is not linked to risky sexual behavior or an early initiation to sex. So there's that. But on a more personal level, I wish that I had ignored conservative fear-mongers and accepted the vaccine for myself before it was too late.
I was one of those young women who held onto my virginity far longer than my peers. I wanted to wait until I met my husband. So I did, and I contracted HPV from him since he didn't know he was a carrier. I had the opportunity to take the Gardasil vaccine, but I resisted because I thought I was safe due to my conservative views on sex. I wish that an older and wiser adult had insisted I get the vaccine for my own protection, because one never knows what the future holds.
The CDC currently recommends that boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 12 initiate an HPV vaccination schedule. The vaccines are given three times during a six-month period to prevent infection. The CDC also recommends older teenagers and young adults (up to age 21 for men and 26 for women) start their vaccination schedule if they missed it when they were younger.
Parents, please vaccinate your teens. I'm living proof that you can't afford to ignore HPV, regardless of your opinions and fears about sexuality.
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