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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7 thoughts on “Of Mosquitoes and Men”
As so often, a brave and interesting post. I do hope some of your male readers get this far. I fear the beleaguered NHS is partly activated by economic and pragmatic concerns in this instance. They need the least expensive and most compliant target. As you say, the consequences of HPV for women are dire, yet getting full take up of the vaccine in teenage boy vectors (and all men) is unlikely.
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Yes,the consequence to women is dire – which makes it all the more important to vaccinate the men who will otherwise infect them. 🙂
One vaccinated woman can sleep with several men, safely – but as pointed out above, she’d be a slag. One unvaccinated man can infect scores of women and his mate will buy him a pint. Seems like, if we want to prevent/manage the threat, it might *more effective to vaccinate all men than all women.
Here in the States, we repeatedly argue about whether birth control should be available to women. but we never discuss whether viagra should be. Sounds like UK has many of the same issues in how it approaches reproductive health, and health in general…
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Viagra and birth control are two different things though aren’t they. Viagra is a tremendously expensive medication. Many of the men who take Viagra do so because they can’t have an erection as a result of a health condition, say like surgery for prostate cancer. Both the man and the woman would like to mainain that part of their relationship.
Wouldn’t a more accurate comparison be comparison of vasectomy costs to birth control etc.
Wow. So much to think about. The US also only vaccinates girls. I appreciate the lens you turn on yourself. Thank you for modeling honesty and humility.
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Where are you getting the information about the US only vaccinating girls? My son has started the HPV vaccine series. There is a lot of information about the HPV vaccination for boys on the CDC website.
I’m glad they are vaccinating boys. I didn’t actually know that because I haven’t seen it pushed by doctors and the media in the same way.
I gave this a lot of thought as usual Ali so I come to the comments a little late. For me this info is a little late… about 30 years 😉 But I’ve certainly flagged the issue to my son as he will have to make some decisions along with his partners in the future. There is a side requirement on those of us who are parents with sons to explain their responsibilities and explain that sex is not a trophy but a shared experience to only be undertaken when the time is right for both parties. That doesn’t mean never, just be careful 😉 Equally, I hope that the young ladies out there also recognise their responsibilities – no teasing please girls because it’s a very small line between consent and no!
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