despite the hype, HPV’s not the end of the world

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.

Posted in: Health, Sex & Relationships, Virginity
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  • sarah

    On getting your partner checked: There actually isn't a reliable test for HPV in males right now. That's yet another good reason to get the vaccine.

  • michelle

    You should check if your partner has any diseases before getting married anyway I thought that was just common sense! and the vaccine kills people, and if you don't have sex You won't catch it. So if you wait til marriage and get checked that should be a good way to prevent any of this non sense! and besides all that if you believe In God and the bible you will find that having sex before marriage is a sin! So why would I want sin, that is worse than hpv anyways! I want to go to heaven thank you very much! If you don't ask Jesus to forgive you and stay forgiven and follow Jesus and not sin you'll go to heaven and If you have sex before marriage and don't ask for forgiveness you aren't going to make it that's just a fact God says so not me!

    • Kat

      I got the Gardasil vaccine, and I’m not dead. I am also negative for HPV 16 and 18 which cause 75% of cervical cancers (both protected by Gardasil). The vaccine also prevents 90% of genital warts as a bonus. In December 2014, the FDA approved Gardasil 9, and I plan to get that vaccine as well for added protection before having more sexual contact (which I fully intend to enjoy with no guilt or shame from right-wing Bible-thumpers). 25,000 out of 67 million U.S. Gardasil doses have been reported to VAERS for adverse events, but only 8% of those 25,000 were classified as “serious” and cannot definitively be linked to vaccination. This information is straight from The CDC, so if you choose to thumb your nose at scientific evidence, call out the sinners like you’re playing God, and join the anti-vaxxer movement, then that’s your misfortune. Some people don’t want to get married, and some people aren’t religious. I, myself, am not religious, but I firmly believe that we deserve to have options and freedom to lead the lives we want.

  • Sarah

    On the danger of HPV: Most of the strains of HPV aren't particularly dangerous. The four strains the HPV vaccine prevents cause 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. Already, most HPV infections develop into nothing at all. Once you get your vaccine, your chances of dying of cervical cancer are extremely low. Currently, 10 000 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the United States. To compare, half the population of the US is around 153 000 000. As a result, a US woman's chance of being diagnosed with cervical cancer this year is less than 0.001% Multiply by 0.3 to get the chance of diagnosis after you've had the vaccine. And don't forget that more than two thirds of patients survive.
    Clearly, HPV is a few electric chairs short of a death sentence.

  • Ni

    Althaea has it right, I completely agree. Plus what if the guy you marry doesn't stay loyal to YOU? The divorce rate is at an all time high and marriage is no shield/no contract to not getting a STD. It's crazy that some people would say that. Teens need education and the steps to keep them safe. It's one thing to scream horrible stories and worse scenario situations at them and another to tell them what to do to keep themselves healthy.
    Also, the HPV vaccine only covers 4 strands of HPV. My boyfriend has HPV and we are super careful, use condoms and not have sex all the time. But the thing about HPV is that its only seen through Pap smears and guys don't really have tests for it, to find out the strand it expensive. There are over 140 types of HPV and the vaccine covers 4…FOUR!! All I'm saying is with that information teens should know to be more careful. Communication with your partner, tests, and precautions are key.

  • Althaea

    I hate it when people use scare tactics like this. I mean most HPV infections will clear up fine on their own, and if you get pap smears reglarly your chances of developing cervical cancer is very small. And condoms are very effective, this 'Docotor' ought to be stripped of her medical liscense for saying they're not. Whatever happened to 'Do no harm'? Teens need to be educated about the risks and the precautions they need to take to lower said risks. Not told 'Oh wait till marriage'. It's not like that'll magicaly protect you. Certainly if your partner didn't. There was a 13 year old girl posting on the 'Sex and Relationships' shout out board here on gurl, saying that if you have sex outside of marriage you get HIV, that it's a curse to punish the immoral, and we're all going to die of cervial cancer for being sinful sluts. Methinks someone is in dire need of some good sex ed.