Sunday, October 22, 2006

HPV Politics: Tell Someone

I'm really peeved about the politics of Merck's "Tell Someone" HPV awareness campaign. If you haven't seen the TV ads, allow me to fill you in. Several women talk to the camera as though the camera-person literally just walked up to them and said "Did you know that cervical cancer is caused by human papillomavirus?" They describe HPV as "a common virus" (which, of course, it is), and say that while most women's bodies can get rid of HPV on their own, the virus can cause cervical cancer -- and other diseases.

By which, of course, they mean genital warts. There isn't a single reference to sex in the entire commercial, even though HPV is sexually transmitted. But any mention of sex would be read in popular culture as an assertion that women who get cervical cancer are sluts -- since, as we all know, only sluts get STIs. Merck doesn't want any flak from the religious fanatics, nor do they want to label their vaccine as The Slut Shot. What will really help prevent the spread of HPV is frank discussion of how it is transmitted, how it can be prevented, how precancerous cells are detected, and how any woman who has any genital contact with anyone is potentially at risk. It's not a scare tactic, it's the truth. And, I hope, knowing that HPV isn't only spread through sexual intercourse will help to break down the stereotype that only "sluts" get STIs.

The ads also don't mention Gardasil, Merck's newly approved vaccine which targets the two strains of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases (16 & 18) and those that cause 90% of cases of genital warts (6 & 11). The only vague reference to the vaccine is when a mother pats her daughter's head and tells the camera, "I'm going to talk to her doctor about way to prevent HPV infection at her next check up." I imagine this is intended to avoid making women rush to their doctors and demand the vaccine, which is recommended for women 9-26, but especially for 11 & 12 year olds, since the vaccine is most likely to be effective if administered before sexual activity begins.

You don't want HPV, obviously, but it's not worth worrying about 24/7. Just as a refresher: Have a pap test regularly, follow up on any irregular results, use condoms/ dams/ non-microwavable plastic wrap /gloves when you're doin' it, especially if you don't know your partner's STI status. There. Thank you for indulging the sex educator in me, she's been bored lately.

In other news, I watched a TV movie tonight called Satan's School for Girls, which was set at a New England women's college -- but I guess Satan's College for Women just didn't sound as sexy!

1 comment:

Reno said...

As a self-proclaimed "sex educator" you should be ashamed of yourself for stating that HPV is "not worth worrying about 24/7" and for providing incorrect information about how to avoid contracting it. As a cervical cancer survivor (and YES it was caused by HPV) I will tell you that having yearly paps/GYNO exams and practicing safe sex is NOT protection against HPV and to suggest it is - is simply irresponsible if not negligent. In 1995 my pap was 100% normal - not one year later I had full-blown cervical cancer. I was not a "slut" either - evidently one of the 3 long-term boyfriends that I'd had passed it on to me. The strain of HPV that I contracted was so virulent that at 26 I had to have a total hysterectomy and went through menopause. Nothing to worry about, eh? Reality check time now - Men are often just carriers, with most have no clue - and more importantly no symptoms. That's right, like the virus that causes cold sores, some people are carriers and never have an "outbreak" so there are no warts that might serve as a visual warning. Or, the warts that men get can be in areas like the thighs or inside the actual uretha of the penis. Unless a man specifically ASKS his doc, they don't do a test for it (except for a visual exam for warts). And even then, the guy might wuss out once he knows that to do the full HPV screening, they're gonna stick a swab UP his penis (seeing as it kinda hurts).

So get vaccinated - and stop spreading misinformation. And be ONE LESS!