Monday, March 08, 2010

What's so funny 'bout ...

.... peace love and understanding?*

I'm struggling to find a way into this post, but once again there's something I need to get off my chest, so for those who prefer not to have to listen to me ranting on at length about a pet peeve, I urge you to look away now.

Right. There we are. Just a few of us left now, so stand by for a little serious spleen venting.

Not long ago I heard from a friend, that they knew someone who held a faith based objection to having their daughter immunized against HPV. Apparently this God-fearing member of the community felt that doing so was giving the poor girl tacit permission to sleep around with all and sundry. I'm sorry but to me this is wrong on so many levels that I had to put finger to keyboard in rebuttal.

And before we go getting carts before horses and saying that dear old Dr J the hippie and flower-child is off on a diatribe about free love and the like, for the record, I'm not. I'll admit to a more liberal interpretation of certain strictures held to more rigidly in other quarters, but there's no such thing as free love, and never has been. Societies order themselves as they will and their mores are adapted to suit the cultural milieu in which they are nurtured, but human animals being as they are behaviour at the individual level is mediated by a whole load of other stuff so that even the most intellectually enlightened and liberal of practitioners of the art can come very easily undone when emotions like jealousy sow seeds of mistrust.

My problem with the position taken by the righteous (self-righteous?) on this is two fold. First, observable evidence tells me that fear of cervical cancer is absolutely not what determines whether a fourteen year old girl has sex. Indeed even fear of pregnancy doesn't appear to enter into the equation for many. There are a great many other drivers that will determine when and if a teenage girl will become (in that most forensically clinical of phrases) sexually active. Peer pressure, alcohol and drug use must be significant actors, as are education and family and social background, and a whole host of subliminal and indeed "liminal" messages from our mass media.

For a few months in the wake of the much publicized Jade Goodie's untimely demise the issue of cervical cancer was very prominent and a great many women sought screening who previously would not have done. I'm not aware that it had any impact on teenage sexual behaviour however.

Putting all this to one side, my second objection is that the main thrust of this argument places all onus on the poor girl, who, as we understand the pathology of cervical cancer, is only exposed to risk by her partner. Granted, more partners adds up to more risk, but outside of a closed community daughters of the most devout families will end up with partners who might not share their up-bringing, or who have come to the religious life late and after a period of youthful experimentation. It is an orthodoxy of Sexual Health practitioners that when you sleep with a new partner then you sleep with everyone that new partner has previously slept with (in a purely metaphorical sense, by and large).

So a failure to vaccinate a young lady against HPV is at best wilfully blinkered and at worst negligent. Worse, it suggests that parents have absolutely no confidence in their daughters, or indeed in their own abilities to educate them and pass on the values that they live by, and hints at attitudes more in keeping with the strictures of the Taliban that the teachings of a God of love and understanding.

* Usual VECHN for first correct attribution of this shamelessly plagiarized title.