Can We Have the HPV Vaccine Without the Sexism and the Homophobia?

I respect that some of you are anti-vaccines–or just anti-Gardasil—but I hope that some Ms. readers will join me in cheering what I consider a better-late-than-never decision by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. It has officially recommended that boys and men ages 13-to-21 be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted disease HPV (human papillomavirus) to protect from anal and throat cancers.

There are many reasons this makes good sense. As I wrote in the Winter 2010 issue of Ms., there’s overwhelming evidence that HPV can lead to deadly oral, anal and penile cancers–all of which affect men and all of which are collectively responsible for twice as many deaths in the U.S. each year as cervical cancer. However, vaccines are a touchy topic, and I want to be clear that I’m not advocating in favor of or against anyone’s decision to get an HPV vaccination. I do strongly advocate for boys and girls, men and women, to have equal access to Gardasil and any other FDA-approved vaccine. Private insurers are required to cover HPV vaccines for girls and young women with no co-pay under the 2010 health reform legislation, and with this decision, that coverage requirement will extend to boys and young men, effective one year after the date of the recommendation. And, whether or not you or your loved ones get vaccinated against HPV, we will all benefit from more vaccinations, considering the extent of this sexually transmitted epidemic/pandemic, which affects as many as 75 percent of adult Americans and can be spread by skin-to-skin genital or oral contact (yes, that includes “French kissing”).

However, the media coverage of the recommendation includes a line of reasoning that I, as a sexual health educator and researcher, find offensive, ignorant, and inaccurate. The New York Times wrote: “Many of the cancers in men result from homosexual sex.” Really? What counts as “homosexual sex”? Most public health experts and HIV/AIDS researchers view “homosexuality” primarily as a sexual orientation, sometimes as a social or political identity, but not as a type of intercourse. Anyone who studies U.S. sexual norms knows that oral sex and anal sex–the behaviors cited as increasing risks of HPV-related oral and anal cancers–are not restricted to men who have sex with men. In fact, the NYT article itself asserts, “A growing body of evidence suggests that HPV also causes throat cancers in men and women as a result of oral sex” –so you don’t have to identify as a “homosexual” man to be at risk; you don’t even have to be a man.

Nevertheless, the New York Times goes on to muse that “vaccinating homosexual boys would be far more cost effective than vaccinating all boys, since the burden of disease is far higher in homosexuals.” Thankfully, the author also thought to check this idea with a member of the CDC committee, who seemed to grasp the ethical and practical challenges of making a recommendation based on a boy’s or man’s “homosexuality.” Kristen R. Ehresmann, Minnesota Department of Health and ACIP member, is quoted as cautioning, “But it’s not necessarily effective or perhaps even appropriate to be making those determinations at the 11- to 12-year-old age.”

Still stuck on the question of sexual orientation, that NYT author seeks to console potentially “uncomfortable” parents of boys by reassuring them that “vaccinating boys will also benefit female partners since cervical cancer in women results mostly from vaginal sex with infected males.” So, is the message, if you don’t want to imagine your son having oral or anal sex with a male partner, then you can focus on the public health service you are providing for girls and women who have male partners?

Instead of contributing to a homophobic panic, I thought it might be helpful to field a few frequently-asked-questions:

Q: Do you have to have a cervix to benefit from the “cervical cancer” vaccine? A: No. Despite its early branding, Gardasil has always been an HPV vaccine. Physiologically speaking, boys and men could have been benefiting from the vaccine since its initial FDA approval.

Q: Why are they recommending vaccinations for girls and boys as young as 11? A: Vaccines only work if given before contact with the virus. Reliable data on age of first “French” kiss is not available, but recent surveys show that about 25 percent of girls and boys in the U.S. have had penile-vaginal intercourse before their 15th birthdays.

Q: Are you too old to benefit? A: If you have not yet been exposed to all four of the HPV strains covered by Gardasil, then you can still gain protection. The more challenging question is: How would you know? The only ways to test for HPV (and then HPV type) is by tissue samples being sent to a lab. Most HPV infections are asymptomatic.

Q: What’s the risk of not getting vaccinated? A: We know that U.S. cervical cancer rates have dramatically decreased in recent decades due to improvements in screening, such as the Pap smear, and better treatment options. However, rates of HPV-related oral and anal cancers are reported to be increasing–and our screening options for these types of cancers are not as effective, affordable or accessible as those for cervical cancer.

Q: So, what can an unvaccinated person do to protect him/herself from a cancer-causing strain of HPV? A: Abstain from behaviors that can transmit the virus, such as deep/open-mouthed kissing, and use barrier methods when engaging in vaginal, anal or oral sex.

If this last answer strikes you as unreasonable, then mobilize your political energies to advocate for increased funding for HPV research. We need and deserve better ways to be tested and treated for the types of HPV that have been linked to serious and potentially fatal cancers. And, as my own research has shown, we have to get rid of the harmful stigma surrounding HPV and other sexually transmitted infections. We also need to stop inaccurately linking STDs to gender or sexual orientation. You can help by making sure your community supports medically accurate, age-appropriate sexuality education. And if you or a loved one wants more information about sexual health, then check out these free online resources.

Picture from Flickr user USACE Europe District under Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. I was recently diagnosed with hpv. Prior to being diagnosed I had recieved all gardasil vaccinations. However, my boyfriend had never received any information about being vaccinated. It was only until after I was diagnosed that I found out that hpv cannot be detected in men and that men could receive an hpv vaccination. I cannot help but think that so many other men and women remain ignorant ignorant about these basic facts. I agree that there is need for education on sex and sexuality in order to create a greater awareness not only of practicing safe sex, but also to prevent homophobic language within the medical field. It is a shame that researchers do not spend more time on researching a virus that causes cancer and a vaccine that doesn’t guarantee one hundred percent prevention. The commercials for gardacil are for women, but there should be advertisement for the hpv vaccine for men as well.

    • not too long ago, I saw an ad for Gardasil in a magazine that had both a teenage boy and girl on it. hopefully more like that will start showing up soon.

    • What is sad about that is you should of NEVER got the vacine if you had an HPV, and this is the problem with this shot. If you have an HPV and then get Gardasil you increase your chances of cervical cancer by 44.6%. How is this vaccine protecting us? Do they test for an HPV prior to vaccination? NO they don’t! With over 23,816 Adverse events , over 100 deaths I think its best to use a condom and have a pap smear. Did I mention my daughter spent 17 days in the hospital after vaccination and that 6 month later she is still sick and Doctors dopnt know how to treat this. Gardasil has high aluminum (my daughter was toxic w/ aluminum after shot) it has polysorbate 80 (sterilizing agent) and sodium borate (ROACH KILLER) and we are shooting up young young kids with this crap. Google Gardasil deaths!!! Go to Do your research people. This shot is not worth it and the side effects well there just torture!!!

  2. Here’s an extraordinary story evolving around cervical cancer

    link to the conversation that aired on Chicago Public Radio, an affiliate of NPR:

  3. You all will also be very interested in reading the award-winning book, The HPV Vaccine Controversy: Sex, Cancer, God and Politics!

  4. Gardasil and Cervarix are poison. HPV does not cause cervical cancer, and second, the HPV vaccines do not fight HPV. Anyone with a scientific evidence that proves otherwise, is free to exposes it. I doubt that very much, since neither the both FDA or the CDC have NOT such evidence.


  5. Ginger Taylor says:

    I do not join you.

    Since the shot was approved for boys just a few months ago, before ACIP even recommended it, three deaths in boys have been associated with this vaccine.

    Do you know that NIH actually holds the patent on the technology that the HPV vaccine is based on? Do you understand that HHS just recommended a vaccine for boys that HHS makes money from? The US Government is a financial partner with Merck on the Gardasil vaccine. When you buy this shot for your child, Merck splits the money with the government that just told you to get this shot for your child.

    Knowing that, do you trust the government when they say that this vaccine is safe? Do you know that if they KNOW that it is not safe, and is causing all the damage families claim, and more, that there is nothing anyone can do about it?

    Almost no one understands that EVERYONE involved in vaccine making, recommendation, distribution and administration has been given BLANKET LIABILITY PROTECTION by Congress. When vaccines kill and injure, no one can legally be held responsible. Ever.

    Thus CDC can recommend any vaccine, deny deaths and injuries, and never be taken to court to be examined to see if their “recommendations” were good or even fraud.

    And when you have a vaccine injury…YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN. Doc will deny it is the shot, and you have no recourse what so ever. Only to get online and tell your story.

    Parents of Gardasil reactions BEG CDC and Merck to come examine their children and help them get treatment, to no avail. CDC and Merck could not care less. They have already cashed the check and can’t be sued.

    Babies born in the 70s and 80s got 24 doses of vaccine, birth to age 18. Liability protected was granted in 1986 and they started adding a few shots to the schedule every year beginning in 1991. Now there are are minimum of 70 doses on the child schedule and a baby born today will get more doses of vaccine by the time he is six months old than his mother did by the time she went to college. And there is no testing of the schedule as a whole, or the vaccines in the combination that they are given on the schedule.

    Buyer beware. The vaccine program is corrupt to the bone.

    • Love you post, all so true and so upsetting. People need to wake up and see what is happening. Hopefully many will read this and Do there Research so they never have to go through a vaccine Injury and Live through this Hell!

  6. Mindano Iha says:

    HPV is not necessarily a sexually transmitted disease if we consider that the infection does not necessarily occur in connection with intercourse.

    The virus is found in the umbilical cord, placent and in infants, also in children who have been sexually abused.

    This means that an unknown number, possibly many young people are advised to have the vaccine even though they may already be infected with HPV.

    It is extremely worrying that clinical trials reveal that the risk of cervical cancer is increased by 44.6% in girls who get vaccinated if they are previously exposed to HPV. Read that sentence again!

    FDA confirms this: Data collected by the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) indicate exposure to HPV prior to vaccination with Gardasil raises a woman’s risk of cervical cancer by 44.6 percent.

  7. Virginia Young says:

    I wish those so adamant on vaccines could understand the true dangers. Unfortunately today when one speaks of equal access for all in the area of vaccination what is meant is forced vaccination. Having been the medical field myself I have been behind the closed doors enough to know the truth. Once the ball is rolling in America there is no stopping it. One recommendation leads to the next and once ACIP “recommends” a vaccine then it is “required”…required for school, required for questions asked. As Ginger mentioned above there is absolutely no liability. No one will be there to help you. You will be on your own if sick and there will be no recourse if you lost a loved one. So anyone who thinks vaccine recommendations are a good thing has not lost a loved to a vaccine yet or has not acknowledged it. In general I find those willing to advocate for vaccines for all haven’t even read the package insert. I live with the knowledge that I once did just that…chose to live ignorant. I investigated everything that came into contact with my children…everything but vaccines. We nearly lost our lives and were left with the injuries that so many have and so many doctors ignore. And suddenly when I showed up for medical assistance for my son I found our records had been sent elsewhere and without my knowledge or consent. When I showed at the other office they didn’t have them either. Children have died instantly from vaccines. Some have died slowly. And then there are those who have been and continue to be refused care. I thank God every day for revealing the truth to me even if I had to learn the hard way. At least I know the truth now.

  8. There is a lot of incorrect information about the Gardasil vaccine campaign. That information has led to the deaths of 103 girls and 23,388 girls adversely injured. These reports have been filed with VAERS – and it is estimated that only 1 to 10& of the vaccine injured population is reporting.

    There is now a global network of activists, educators, researchers and health professionals who are concerned about the safety and efficacy of Gardasil and who are trying to educate medical consumers so they can make an informed decision about whether or not they get vaccinated.

    There are two things medical consumers need to be aware of: 1. According to the FDA 73.3% of girls who took part in Merck’s clinical trials developed new medical conditions. 2. In the May 2006 FDA VRBPAC document on Gardasil – it was noted that if a girl is already exposed to HPV and gets the HPV vaccine – her chances of getting cervical cancer increase 44.6% post-Gardasil and 32.5% post Cervarix.

    SANE Vax Inc. has prepared a HPV Vaccine Fact Sheet so that medical consumers can find out the facts – and not be prey to propaganda –….

  9. Karen Haack says:

    The FDA, CDC and even the vaers data base are all ran by a bunch of gold digging morons, listen up America they are killing our kids on purpose. Poisoning our food, medications etc. You never hear about it unless someone shits or pisses on cantelope or spinich.

  10. Well, I am a teenage male and I stumbled uppon this.

    My mother said that none of us will get the vaccine in our family. My sister witnessed a good friend of hers have a seizure, fall out of their desk, and get a concussion. It was traced back to the HPV vaccine.

    I am a male, and I strongly disagree with getting a child our age vaccinated fot HPV. (I’m fourteen) The most sensible (not saying most are) people my age would agree that sexual acts should not be carried out at this age. In my opinion, there are WAY more things to be concerned about like school. And if you are sensible, you don’t suddenly get the urge to attempt to fornicate. As it was said, there are plenty of reasons not to get an HPV vaccine, as it can even nearly double the chances of getting some cancers if it is administered post-infection.

    All in all, this vaccine’s risk much outweighs the good it can do.

  11. The BEST prevention of death from cervical cancer is early detection, e.g. annual PAP smears for sexually active women who have had with more than one partner!

    At the same time that the HPV came out, the FDA began to make noises about less frequent PAP smears for women. Insurance companies are behind this — since annual female exams and lab work are covered by insurance. This is a money saving measure only!

    It would be interesting to know Planned Parenthood’s position on annual PAP smears and their ability to positively contribute to women’s health.

    Additionally, there has never to my knowledge been a similar protocol / test developed to check throat epithelial cells for men or women at risk for developing throat cancer.

    • I agree with you and tried to raise awareness about the revised recommendations for Pap smears back in May 2010 on this blog*. As you’ll see, there are about as many anti-Pap-smear comments for that post as there are anti-Gardasil/vaccine comments on this post. You’re also right about the lack of an “oral Pap smear”; though, a few recent news stories point to its likely development**). “Anal Pap smears” have been utilized by medical practitioners for quite a few years, though this procedure is not routinely offered to most patients, and I have not yet heard that there is consensus on how and when it should be used.


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