A funny thing happened on Facebook this week. Well, maybe less funny and more instructive. I shared the article above on my Facebook page. It had been placed on Facebook by a friend, and I decided to share it also, offering the following comment:
“I had read about devastating side effects of Gardisil in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine years ago. I’ve had my doubts about this for some time. If you want to avoid HPV, avoid promiscuous sex … period! None of my daughters have received this vaccine, and they won’t so long as it’s my call.”
Now, one person suggested that this article might not be a reliable source. That’s a very legitimate concern. Of course, I can’t speak to the reliability of the source. I had heard bad things about Gardasil in the past and my wife and I made the decision not to have our daughters vaccinated. For the record, the FDA and CDC have judged Gardasil as safe, regarding the benefits as outweighing the risks. Fine. Even still, the vaccine has received many complaints of severe side effects, especially of the autoimmune variety (fatigue, joint swelling and soreness, etc…). It may be, as a friend pointed out, that my concerns are outdated. Nevertheless, as another friend pointed out, the information sheet that accompanies Gardasil does indicate that as high as 3.3% of those vaccinated suffer negative autoimmune side effects. We made the call not to have our girls vaccinated.
But, this post isn’t really about the benefits vs. the risks of Gardasil. It’s about the rather extreme reaction my post received. In short order I was:
- accused of judging those who choose to have multiple sexual partners
- accused of being unfair to those who choose to have multiple sexual partners
- accused of condeming those who choose to have multiple sexual partners
- accused of being an advocate of abstinence-only sex education
- accused of “placing” my morals on others’ behavior
- accused of making false scientific claims
- explained to me that you don’t have to be promiscuous to get HPV
- explained to me that 70% of the population has HPV
- accused of not wanting to protect my children
- accused of being willing to “damn people” to living with STDs or cancer
- explained to me that “the odds are against you” even if you choose “not to even kiss before marriage”
- explained to me that it doesn’t work to just tell people they can’t have sex
- explained to me that it’s unrealistic to expect young people to limit their sexual activity to only one person
- accused of thinking that sex is “dirty or bad”
- accused of being an anti-vaxxer
- accused of “preaching” that no one should have their children vaccinated with Gardasil
- accused of being “offended” by Gardasil only because it protects against cancers caused by a sexually transmitted disease
- accused of being sent into a “tizzy” at the thought of people having sex
- accused of thinking that receiving the Gardasil vaccine will encourage people to have “unprotected sex with strangers”
All of this because 1) I expressed my concerns about the Gardasil vaccine and revealed our decision not to have our daughters vaccinated with Gardasil, and 2) I repeated the well-established fact that promiscuous sexual activity places one at risk for contracting HPV.
Now, some didn’t appreciate the idea that STDs are caught by “promiscuous” sexual behavior and insisted that HPV can be caught with only one sexual contact. I don’t doubt that at all and ought to have been more clear about that. Nevertheless, it is well-established that the more sexual partners a person has, the greater the risk of contracting an STD they’re assuming. It is also well-established that limiting one’s sexual activity to one other who has limited his or her sexual activity to you makes the risk of contracting an STD virtually non-existent. Somehow, these points were difficult to grasp amidst the insistence by those responding to my post that the conversation be couched in terms of morality. The idea, for instance, that I’m being “unfair” to those who choose to have multiple sexual partners by pointing this out is equally absurd. I’m not the one doling out HPV, and HPV or other STDs don’t care about being “fair.” The risk of contracting STDs has nothing to do with morality, really. It has everything to do with pathophysiology. Those who can’t or refuse to see that distinction aren’t helping anyone, least of all their children when they educate them about sex. It wasn’t lost on me that, somehow, while it’s apparently completely inappropriate for me to point out the risks of sex with multiple partners, it’s perfectly appropriate for others to accuse me of being a bad or irresponsible parent because I’m not on board with Gardasil. Hmmm …
So, let’s be perfectly clear. I’m not convinced that the risks vs. benefits assessment of Gardasil justifies our having our girls vaccinated. Of course, two of our girls are adults, so it’s totally their call now. Each parent needs to make this decision on their own. Honestly, we’ve never had our pediatrician even bring up Gardasil, so I’m not sure if all the fuss is merited. Genital cancers are pretty rare and, even if people don’t like this being said, contracting HPV and other STDs is largely behavior-related. Yes, it’s possible to be sexual assaulted and contract an STD, but the risk is not high. How high does the risk need to be to justify the vaccine? That’s a question each parent needs to decide. If others disagree with us about the decision we’ve made, that’s their prerogative. It’s not their prerogative, however, to accuse us of being bad or irresponsible parents for making a different decision than they. And it’s border-line hysteria to make up motives for this decision like thinking sex is dirty and bad, thinking that Gardasil is an invitation to irresponsible sexual behavior, or thinking that people having sex puts anyone in a “tizzy.” The people who made those accusations really ought to be ashamed of themselves, but shame in this culture is a rare commodity.
It’s too bad we can’t talk about sex in this culture without people getting worked up. It’s simply ludicrous and irresponsible to deny, reject, or refuse to educate our children about the fact that multiple sexual partners increases one’s risk for serious adverse physical, emotional and, yes, spiritual health consequences. People need to make their own choices, but no one gets to pretend that actions don’t have consequences.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.