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A matter of trust

Did science really have to prove to parents that their 11-year-olds probably aren't sluts?



That gust of warm, stale-smelling air you just felt wasn't the office furnace kicking on for the first time this season. No, it was a sigh of relief from deep within the lungs of irrational parents with prepubescent children.

A study released early this week — co-sponsored by Kaiser Permanente and Emory University — indicates that girls who are vaccinated against the potentially cancer-causing Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, don't treat the shot as a license to get laid.

Researchers monitored the medical records of 1,400 Atlanta-area girls, a sampling of whom received the vaccination when they were 11 and 12 years old, and then looked for "markers" of sexual activity during the subsequent three years of their lives; things like reported pregnancies, STD screenings, or inquiries about birth control.

Turns out, the girls who were vaccinated behaved no differently than the girls who weren't vaccinated. And most of the total sample — 90 percent of all the girls — didn't exhibit any markers of sexual activity.

The AJC headline on Monday read, "HPV shots don't make girls promiscuous, study says." Oh, so you mean a vaccination doesn't result in 11-year-old girls running crotch-first into the streets to the nearest seedy motel or truck stop to have women made of them by fellow horny middle schoolers?

This is a shocking revelation. Sarcasm aside, the study is revelatory, at least insofar as what it reveals about parents who aren't vaccinating their children against HPV, many of whom still cite the fear that doing so is tantamount to encouraging them to have sex at a young age.

And apparently, that fear remains pervasive enough that debunking it warranted a years-long study conducted by an entire team of researchers.

According to research cited by the New York Times, almost a third of teens ages 14 to 19 have HPV, making it easily the most common sexually transmitted infection. There's no cure; once it's contracted sometimes it clears up, sometimes it doesn't. If it doesn't, it increases an infected person's chance of developing a variety of cancers (most frequently, cervical cancer in women).

While reported cases remain high, the number of kids being vaccinated against the infection remains low, despite government recommendations. While some parents have said they're wary of the vaccination's side effects, Yale University researchers recently determined that most who don't vaccinate say promiscuity is the biggest fear.

Without attacking or oversimplifying a parent's hierarchy of concern for their child's wellbeing — and keeping in mind that I don't have kids of my own — I have a hard time understanding how protecting her from eventually developing cancer could be outweighed by the fear that she might decide to have sex if assured that she's protected from HPV.

Sex can be dangerous. Especially when young, dumb people have it. Still, the logic behind not vaccinating as a form of chastity insurance doesn't exactly follow.

It seems if the threat of contracting a STD is what's preventing a child from running out and screwing, then her susceptibility to a slew of other diseases should still give her pause after she received the shot.

And at the risk of becoming preoccupied with semantics, there's something gross about the way this entire conversation has been framed. The word "promiscuity" is uttered too often, a subjective term we apply to girls who, what? Have sex with multiple partners? Have sex before their 16th birthdays? Have sex before marriage?

The answer is up to the asker. And, really, it's irrelevant. Girls shouldn't be raised to believe their perceived promiscuity could ever be more important than their long-term health.

The idea that the HPV vaccine is a license to have sex has been discredited, and now we'll wait and see if parents take it to heart. The fact of the matter: Kids already have a license to have sex because they were born with sex organs.

Leaving them susceptible to a potentially deadly STI won't change that.

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