A new study just revealed that being sexually active as a teen does not predict future HPV infection. I wonder if this will affect some of the STD "education" that’s been going around. I’m thinking in particular about things like a video I saw a few years ago called, "The Rules Have Changed."
Produced by and starring a doctor named Meg Meeker, (who is also the author of books like, EPIDEMIC: How Teen Sex Is Killing Our Kids), the video employs typical anti-sex scare tactics.
For example, in it Meeker warns, "Once you catch [Herpes, HIV or HPV], it’s yours for life…In the case of Human Papiloma Virus, it may lead to cervical cancer, which kills about 5000 women each year." The screen then flips to a shot of a body being loaded onto a hearse.
In the next scene, Meeker and her colleagues explain that condoms are ineffective. A teen asks, "So how can you have safe sex?"
"You might not want to hear this," Meeker tells her. "But it’s the only answer I can give from a medical perspective. Postpone sexual activity until you’re married."
Clearly, I have a few issues with this tactic. I hate claiming morals are medical. I also don’t buy making HPV (not to mention herpes!) seem as serious as HIV.
HPV can be serious, and yes, a few strains of HPV can lead to cervical cancer. But better than telling teens not to bother with condoms because they just don’t work, why not promote pap smears?
Pap smears are important even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine because while the vaccine protects you from a lot of the most dangerous types of the virus, there are still a few strains it can’t prevent.
If you get a pap once a year after you become sexually active, you are pretty much protected from cervical cancer. That’s true even if you have the kind of HPV that could lead to this disease because cervical cancer grows really slowly. As a result, most women discover pre-cancerous cells through pap smears long before cancer ever develops. These cells can be removed safely and cancer can be prevented.
Plus, now that we know women who start having sex in their teens have the same risk of developing HPV as those who don’t have sex until they are adults, the waiting until marriage argument carries a little less weight.
No matter what people like Meeker would have you believe, trading your virginity for a wedding ring doesn’t offer complete infection protection. What if the person you marry didn’t wait to have sex like you did, or is claiming secondary virginity? In that case, an infection could easily enter into the relationship.
Ultimately, your best protection from any infection is communication, testing and condoms whether you’re married or not.
So yes, HPV is a drag, and left untreated it can even lead to a really serious disease. But HPV is not the threat it is sometimes made out to be. And waiting to have sex until marriage is not the only way to avoid it.