This week I received my third and final HPV vaccine, at 21 years old. I should have gotten it when I was in junior high or elementary school, (the recommended age is 11 or 12) but it wasn’t offered in my rural Catholic school.
According to the CDC, the HPV vaccine protects not only against the HPV virus, which can be contracted in more ways than just through vaginal intercourse, but also against health problems that the HPV virus causes. In other words, it prevents cervical and vaginal cancer in women, and genital warts and anal cancer in women and men. Gardasil and other HPV vaccines are literally cancer vaccines. These are cancer vaccines that women can only receive up until the age of 26. Men are recommended to only get them up until the age of 21, unless they engage in sex acts with other men or have compromised immune systems.
So if the recommended age to receive the vaccine is around 12, and it’s proven to prevent some of the cancers that are most harmful to women, why did I only just finish my 3 rounds of shots? Because there are horrendous, un-feminist and dangerous myths surrounding the HPV vaccine. I’ve taken the time to debunk some of them, giving you at least 4 reasons you should strongly consider getting vaccinated.
1. Gardasil makes pre-teens promiscuous.
If this isn’t grade-A slut shaming, then I don’t know what is. In fact, this is exactly why the vaccine wasn’t offered when I was younger. I also went to a school that provided minimal sexual education, which was officially renamed Chastity Education when I was in 8th grade, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that to the school board, my virginity was more important than preventing cancer. Let’s imagine for a moment that this claim isn’t absolutely absurd. If I had a 12 year old daughter who was beginning to discover her sexuality and whose body was changing, I would absolutely give her body the tools to fight cancer, even if that meant she would suddenly develop the urge to have sex. I should probably also mention that once the vaccine was recommended for boys, many Christian schools jumped right on board. Which leads me to my next point.
2. Men don’t need to be vaccinated against HPV.
As mentioned before, the CDC recommends boys follow the same vaccination schedule as girls, and if you or your male partner has not yet been vaccinated, he can do so up until 21, or 26 depending on aforementioned factors.
3. The HPV vaccine has KILLED over 130 girls.
The vaccine will make your arm hurt— a lot. Remember when you were a kid and charlie horses were popular? That’s what it feels like. Some people faint when they see needles, some people get a mild fever or a headache after they receive the vaccine – but nobody dies from the vaccine. The HPV vaccine, like any other vaccine available to the public, has undergone years of testing. The vaccine also hasn’t made anyone infertile or given anyone cancer. Of all the deaths reported, autopsies have proven that the HPV shot did not cause any of them. You will not die from the HPV shot. You might, however, die of cervical cancer, which is the 3rd most common cancer in women ages 20-50.
4. I don’t need the HPV vaccine because I’m in a committed relationship.
I’ve heard many people say, “my husband/ boyfriend/ partner/ wife/ girlfriend doesn’t have HPV, and I don’t have HPV and we’re never going to sleep with anyone else, so why does it matter?” I am in a serious monogamous relationship and neither of us have any STDs, and we certainly don’t plan on ever sleeping with other people – but life happens. Your partner might pass away or you might elect for an open marriage or you might break up or get divorced. Even if you’re together until one of you dies, your decision not to get the HPV vaccine in your 20s could mean genital warts from some rando at the nursing home in your 80s.
We are incredibly privileged to live in a world where not only we have the technology to vaccinate against diseases but to also hold a place in this world wherein we have access to them and can (mostly) afford them. I just had to pay nearly $600 CAD for the vaccine over 6 months, because when I was 12, my ‘chaste reputation’ was more important than my ability to prevent cancer. Nobody should be denied the right to prevent diseases because of their gender or how their sexuality is perceived. I’m thrilled that my old school now vaccinates against HPV, but it breaks my heart that we weren’t worth saving from cancer until boys were too.
I don’t want my daughters to grow up in a world that tells them that their virginity is more important than their health. Vaccinate yourself and your children. Get pap tests. Prevent cancer. Take your health into your own hands and ignore outrageous misconceptions.
What are your thoughts on the HPV vaccine? Let me know in the comments below.