The Temptation of St Anthony – woodcut by Jost de Negker (1500 – 1520)
We need to talk about the HPV vaccine. In that one sentence I’ve probably lost most of my male readers. HPV is a girl thing, right? Something about women’s health, nothing for us to get involved in.
I thought so too, but as you’d expect nothing in life is that simple. Brace yourself, it gets uncomfortable. The HPV vaccine protects against various types of the Human Papillomavirus. It is mostly harmless but can cause genital warts, and various forms of cancer, in both men and women. It is most commonly associated with the risk of cervical cancer, and because the vaccine is most effective if it is given before there is any risk of infection, it is given to girls in the UK around the age of 12.
HPV is the most common STD.
There is a world of meaning hidden behind those acronyms.
Sexually TRANSMITTED disease
The virus is transmitted through sexual activity. Both men and women get it. The same vaccine (Gardasil) is effective most of the time for both. But only women are vaccinated in the UK. Until recently I was oblivious to this, as I guess most men are. The cancer risk for men is low, and genital warts, in the rare instances they occur are treatable. The risks are greater for homosexual men.
The risks for women are greater still, and the consequences devastating.
Here’s my question. Both sexes get the virus, both transmit it, so why do we only vaccinate those most affected, not all the vectors? Vaccination works best if you treat the whole herd, and in other countries (Australia for example) they do.
We all learn at school that it is the female Anopheles mosquito that transmits the malaria virus, We’re oddly silent about this virus.
I see in this a manifestation of a deeply ingrained sexism in British society. It does not matter who is the cause, ultimately our society accepts that only women should bear the burden of it.
It is in our language, it is in the way we think: boys sow their wild oats, girls are slags.
It is an invidious form of victim blaming, of slut shaming that most men aren’t even aware they are being taught. And therein lies the essence of male privilege. Every human has the capacity to be the carrier, but in Britain, it is a woman’s problem, a girl thing, something men don’t have to concern themselves with. We’re protected from the consequences of our actions and we don’t even realise the world is organised around our convenience.
I wonder if any of my male readers have made it this far. Did you know your role in this? If you didn’t what will you do now you know?
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