The truth about sex, cancer and HPV | Amy Johnson

Actor Michael Douglas said his throat cancer is linked to HPV (Human Papillomavirus). - Photo by David Shankbone/Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use
Actor Michael Douglas said his throat cancer is linked to HPV (Human Papillomavirus).
— image credit: Photo by David Shankbone/Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

Whatever you may think of Michael Douglas as a celebrity, he deserves praise for his honesty recently about HPV being the cause of his throat cancer.

HPV, Human Papillomavirus, is a sexually transmitted infection that has been in the news in recent years because certain strains are known to cause cervical cancer in women.

A vaccine was developed to protect people from the cancer-causing strains of HPV, and it has been recommended by the Center for Disease Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics for girls since 2006.

Many people don’t realize that the vaccine was approved for boys in 2010, and is now recommended for them, as well. New information spurred this change. The rise in throat and neck cancer in men due to HPV has risen exponentially over the last 25 years.

Despite these facts, many parents remain skeptical about the vaccine, concerned that giving it to preadolescent children will encourage sexual activity. CNN Health reports that in 2010, less than half the girls who were eligible for the vaccine had received even one of the three recommended doses. This is despite a Kaiser Permanente study which showed that vaccinating children at age 11 or 12 does not increase sexual activity.

Those who are vaccinated against HPV do not have earlier sexual debuts than those who are not vaccinated. They just won’t get cancer from HPV.

Let me repeat this information in another way: there is a vaccine that prevents some types of cancer. You’d think we’d all be jumping for joy and lining up to get our kids vaccinated.

Yet, even with all of this new life-saving information, our local youth have been misinformed as recently as last spring.

Ed Ainsworth, an abstinence-only speaker who advertises himself as “Sex Ed,” shared dangerously outdated information with nearly 100 students at Federal Way High School after school just last April. Using scare tactics and misinformation, he proclaimed there is one STD that only kills women. He was talking about HPV.

Uninformed and misinformed youth are in more danger than youth who have information about protecting themselves. Educated youth make smarter decisions.

In addition, Mr. Ainsworth’s talk focused on virginity, a concept many youth believe will protect them from STDs and is preserved if one does not engage in penile-vaginal intercourse. Without proper information about how to protect oneself, many youth end up with STDs like HPV from oral or anal sex while striving to preserve their virginity.

Instead of focusing on virginity, a focus on abstinence, which is a behavior anyone can choose at any time, is a more empowering concept. Sexual activity should always be a choice, regardless of whether one is in a relationship or not, married or not, or has engaged in certain sexual activity before or not.

Focusing on virginity over abstinence diminishes this concept. It also leaves out sexual abuse and assault survivors. Helping youth focus on their ability to choose activities they are comfortable with and protect themselves, instead of focusing on virginity, will help keep them healthy and alive.

All of which brings me back to Michael Douglas and his honesty about his disease.

Parents, don’t be stubborn out of ignorance. Be a proponent of accurate information and get your kids the vaccine that prevents the HPV strains that cause cancer. Do it. Do it now.


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