Rob is now old enough to get the HPV vaccine, and his pediatrician recommends it, so I chose to have him get it. (It's recommended for boys even though the cancer issue is more serious for girls, because boys can transmit the infection from one girl to another.)
There are lots of reasons why parents might choose NOT to get this vaccine for their children (it might not work, it's too new, all vaccines are bad, etc.), and on a couple of those reasons I had to do some thinking: Rob was actually old enough for the vaccine two years ago, and the pediatrician brought it up a year ago, but I wasn't done thinking yet.
Today I would like to address only one reason, and why I think it's not a reason. It is possible that this will start a heated discussion, and I hate heated discussions. But I keep hearing this reason, and I have some Insider Experience that others might not have, and so it feels like a worthwhile risk. If you have chosen a DIFFERENT reason for not getting the vaccine for your child, that's not what we're talking about here, and I would hate to get half a dozen heated discussions going when I have only stocked up on enough gin to handle one. So tangential discussions such as "Well, _I_ chose not to because _I_...." will just get things all tangled, and perhaps would be better saved for a post discussing THAT particular topic.
Here is the reason I'm talking about: "The vaccine is to protect against sexually-transmitted diseases, but we've taught our children that sex is only for within marriage. In a monogamous couple, there's no risk of sexually-transmittted diseases, so there's no need for the vaccine."
And here are the things I would like to say about that:
1. Teenagers are known to be kind of dim. Many of them make foolish mistakes. In fact, ALL human beings are known to be kind of dim, and ALL of us sometimes make foolish mistakes. Even Christian adults continue to sin and ask forgiveness, sin and ask forgiveness. A teenager who truly wants to obey God and parents WILL continue to make mistakes anyway, just as adults do. A major tenet of Christianity is that ALL humans sin---it's just that God no longer requires the sinner's death as payment for that sin.
2. One out of six women is sexually assaulted---and because of the large number of women who don't report such things, the number is estimated to be much, much higher than that. Teaching a child not to have premarital sex does not protect the child against being sexually assaulted.
3. I went to a Christian middle school. Of the twelve children in my class, seven are known to have been sexually active before marriage. (This is not to say that the other five are known NOT to have been. It's to say that of those five, I know one wasn't, and the other four have not confided in me.) These were children who were all vigorously taught not to have premarital sex.
4. I went to a Christian college. While I was there, a study came out that electrified the student body. It involved a survey that showed that when college boys were asked if they would commit rape if they KNEW they could get away with it, a certain percentage said yes. What electrified us was that the percentage at Christian schools was the same as at secular schools. This led to a flurry of surveys done at our school, mostly by students in psych programs. Those showed that although in our particular Christian student body the students tended to have had fewer sexual partners than the national average, the percentage who were (or had been) sexually active was hovering right at average. This was not staggering news: I lived in the dorms, and girls talk.
5. I would like to make sure everyone is hearing numbers 3 and 4. Those children had parents and pastors who taught them not to have premarital sex. Those children's parents paid extra money for Christian education, in part to make sure those standards were upheld among the children's peers. And those parents were sitting at home with no idea their children were having sex. They even now would say, "Well, but see, I taught my children not to have premarital sex, and they didn't!" And yet many of them are wrong. Did you yourself refrain from having premarital sex after being taught not to? How nice! But is that detail relevant? Well, it's about as relevant as the information that other children given the same instructions DIDN'T refrain. What it tells us is that "parental/church say-so" isn't something parents can count on to make the difference between the child refraining and the child not refraining.
6. Have you noticed that among your own Christian peers, there is some
disagreement about what God's will is, and/or what the interpretation of certain biblical passages should be, and/or how important those particular issues are? Children too may disagree with their parents on these same things. I hope you have not accidentally gotten the impression that all those sexually-active students at my Christian college had turned their backs on the teachings of God and their parents. On the contrary, these smart children had been taught to analyze scripture for true meaning, and analyze scripture they did. Many of them were satisfied that either premarital sex was not a sin, or else it was a minor and forgivable one (like the tattoo thing, or like the eating of cloven-hoofed animals thing, or like the gossiping thing). This was after being THOROUGHLY TAUGHT that it MOST DEFINITELY WAS a sin. They disagreed, as many Christians disagree with each other on many matters.
7. For many people, God's plan for their lives will involve them marrying someone who is a flawed human being like every single other flawed human being. Their intended spouse's particular flaw may have involved a sexual slip-up, from which they have fervently repented and taken steps to prevent ever happening again outside of monogamous marriage. The virus remains unaffected by the information that the other person in the marriage was a virgin.
8. For many people, God's plan for their lives will involve them marrying someone who was raised by non-Christian parents and only converted after hearing about Christianity in adulthood. That person might have spent their youth without understanding that they shouldn't be having premarital sex left and right. They now repent of it and will live a monogamous Christian life. The virus shrugs its virusy shoulders at this and goes right on being a virus.
9. HPV can be transmitted from mother to child during birth. Presumably even those who think it's a fair consequence for fornicators to die of cancer don't think that virgins who get HPV via childbirth (and the virgins they later monogamously marry, and the children they then have within their monogamous marriage) should all also die of cancer.
If your concern is that a vaccine that may help prevent a sexually-transmitted disease may also send the message to your child that you endorse and encourage premarital sex, I suggest talking to your child on that topic. I was certainly FULLY AWARE of how my parents, teachers, God, etc. felt about premarital sex; getting a shot wouldn't have made me think, "Hey---maybe they DON'T think it's wrong!" When I talk to a teenager about Dangerous Things of various sorts, I almost always use the Double Lecture: for example, "You MUST NOT drink alcohol. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you not drink. It's illegal and dangerous. Here are all the dangerous things that can happen" AND ALSO "...But if you DO drink alcohol, PLEASE don't drive. Call me and I will come pick you up." I'm telling them absolutely not to do something---but I'm aware that they are not golums into whom I can put a magical slip of paper giving them instructions that will be absolutely followed, and so I also tell them what to do if they disobey me.
Actually, what I'd probably do if I were worried about the shot seeming to endorse premarital sex is NOT talk about it (in the context of the vaccine, I mean). I haven't discussed other vaccines with my children: I just tell them they're getting a shot, and they say "Oh no!" and that's the end of it. When Rob got the HPV shot he also got a Hepatitis A vaccine (it's part of the standard set now, but wasn't when Rob was a baby so he's catching up now). I didn't explain to him that this did NOT mean I was condoning the drinking of fecal-matter-tainted water; I just signed the paperwork and he got the shot. If a 12-year-old child hears he or she is getting a HepA and a HPV shot that day, the child is likely to continue looking bored, rather than perking up and thinking "Ah ha! This means my parents DO approve of me having premarital sex! And this shot MAY eliminate ONE of the MANY dangers, so basically I'm CLEARED FOR TAKE-OFF!"
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