When Mom’s away, the kids will play

conservatism, Feminism, science, Women's Issues

So my mother runs this here blog, and she sent me an email before she left for YearlyKos saying that I should post some links and things for you people so that you don’t get bored in her absence.

And you may already know me as the daughter partly responsible for last fall’s blog re-design (so, yes, you can blame all the display glitches on me, thanks) and the occasional subject of posts on diaper rash or whatever. I also blog, but I think the only people who read my blog are my friends, so it’s kind of neat to annex this blog for a few days, since it reaches a much wider audience. I hope I don’t blow my audition.

Yesterday’s big news was the death of Zarqawi, but I don’t really want to post about that, particularly since a) it won’t make much difference in the war effort, and b) we could have got him without going to war, and that whole debate makes me weary. Also, I generally don’t really feel qualified to say much about Iraq, since my knowledge of the subject is limited, so lets talk about things I am familiar with: women and science! (But feel free to talk about Zarqawi in the comments if that rocks your boat.)

I want to preface this by saying that this discussion has been kicking around on the feminist blogs for a while, but my perception here is that the demographic here skews a little differently, so I hope you learn something new!

The big story this morning is that the FDA approved the HPV vaccine. Under any other circumstances, a vaccine that prevents cancer would be cause of celebration and ticker tape parades and all that, but because the disease prevents a cancer caused by a sexually transmitted virus that mainly affects women, we have to stop and talk about it.

So first, congrats to the FDA for being less stupid about the HPV vaccine than they are about emergency contraception.

But second, boo! to the conservatives that would block the administration of the vaccine. Arthur Caplan at MSNBC points out:

[T]he best time to vaccinate is just before women become sexually active. And that is why this new cervical cancer vaccine is sure to be ethically controversial.

Some conservative religious groups and family-values advocates believe that the best way to prevent any sexually transmitted disease is to teach young people to be abstinent until marriage. They don’t want HPV vaccine offered to young women because it will encourage, in their view, sexual promiscuity. Or they only want the vaccine discussed by parents not in schools or in the doctor’s office. But there is a big flaw in this reasoning.

Even though a woman may remain chaste until marriage she may marry someone who wasn’t. She would still be at risk of infection. Given that risk, the case for getting schools, doctors, public health departments involved even if you are someone who wants to keep all talk of sex in the home starts to become very strong.

Not to mention the pressure a lot of girls feel to have sex anyway, regardless of how much abstinence is emphasized. A new study indicates a lot of teenaged girls have sex when they don’t want to, “and the result may be a higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.” That’s a whole other post about how girls are socialized and expected to behave, but the study speaks to the point that teaching abstinence is not going to prevent the spread of STDs like HPV. (There’s been some buzz recently about teens breaking their virginity pledges as well. So much for that, eh?)

Further, there’s no reason to think access to the vaccine would encourage more girls to have sex anyway. Studies in countries where emergency contraception is available over the counter indicate that there was no rise in sexual activity once the pills became available, so there’s no reason to think an HPV vaccine would cause that either, especially since this one vaccine doesn’t really make women immune to, you know, every other STD plus pregnancy. More to the point, HPV is one of the least talked about STDs (AIDS kind of trumps most discussions) but is also the most common.

But there you have it, folks. For some conservative Christian groups, choosing between cancer and sex, sex is the greater evil.

The other problem is that the vaccine is expensive, and some groups are pushing for administration of the vaccine to be mandatory for pre-teen girls, which begs the question of who will pay for it. And there’s also an interesting ethical dilemma: should we treat a vaccine for a sexually transmitted virus the same as we treat the vaccine for the measles? Or are we framing the question wrong? The Times article I linked to above says that cervical cancer — almost all of which is caused by HPV — is the second-leading cause of death among women worldwide. If that’s the case, why not say we’re administering a vaccine for cancer? Isn’t that revolutionary? Take sex out of the equation.

Heh, my first post on my mom’s blog and I write about sex. Good thing she’s so cool! (Hi, Mom!)

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  1. alyosha  •  Jun 9, 2006 @1:10 pm

    I love the design of your own blog, and it’s refreshing to hear a younger, yet related voice in your mother’s space.

    I can’t comment much about the piece you wrote, since I read about this flap with the anti-sex Christian right a bit earlier. But it is good that the FDA did something right for a change. Not surprisingly, this outcome happens to be what the pharamceutical companies also want. Kind of a metaphor for how the right operates: makes lots of pious noise about morality but don’t threaten business.

  2. justme  •  Jun 9, 2006 @2:18 pm

    Hello Maha’s daughter, Welcome!!!!Great post,I personally was wondering if your Mom would touch upon the topic,so I am glad you did..

    Isn’t this just amazing that in 2006 we are having this conversation? It should be a no – brainer but instead the right will play games with the lives of millions of women to suit their agenda.My greatest fear is for the poorest women in this country.As you rightly pointed out this vaccine is very costly and we all know how the right feels about poor women and sex.

    Will the powers that be want to fund this vaccine for poor women?, if they think it is equal to giving permission to have sex outside marriage?I understand that even if poor women waited to have sex until they marry there is no telling where her partner has been, but does the government?

    I am glad the FDA approved this drug..very very glad.But I fear there will be a great many issues to overcome as far as morality meets science… Still I am amazed in 2006 at how far BACK we have gone.. the fact that we NEED to have this discussion is proof.

    Thanks for Guest blogging here..I am not a bit suprised to see Maha has such a smart and talented daughter….I hope you don’t mind I added your blog to my list of daily reads…with just a fast glance I found the issues you have wrote about are of interest to me .Great topic.. thanks for entertaining my brain!

  3. Britwit  •  Jun 9, 2006 @3:00 pm

    Donna- I didn’t know that you were Maha’s daughter but always suspected some type of a connection. Anyway, she trained you well and you have a great writing style also.

    I’ve heard about the vaccine and think that it’s great.

    As far as the religious crazies, I’ve heard about them also. They think that it encourages a teen or preteen to have sex. Give me a break. Let the Christian crazies daughters not get vaccinated. It’s a wonder they even believe in sex after marriage. I just hope that Falwell doesn’t have any children since he obviously has a very poor gene pool.

    I heard about the study of girls having sex earlier than they want because of pressure. I find that fact sad.

    The next thing you know, the religious crazies are going to say that you can’t live together unless you are married. The exception, of course, is if you are gay because you are tearing families apart. They are so insane!

    I think that the religious right are missing some intelligence genes.

  4. justme  •  Jun 9, 2006 @3:02 pm

    One fast zarkiwi comment…..How is it that our troops are being torn to shreds by tiny roadside IED’S , yet 2, count them,TWO 500 lb bombs fell on zarkiwi and he hardly had a scratch. No rubble from a “house” that fell on him… no dust…how does one keep their face so clean when 2 500 lb bombs fall on your house?Did he have oil of olay daily facial and bottled water on hand to clean up before he died?Not one bit of rubble in the beard either, which is funny because if you know anyone with a beard you know they catch everything that falls from nose level or above…

    2 500 lb bombs fell on the guy and he was intact???Then a house fell on him and he was intact………doesn’t that strike anyone as even a bit weird?Was zarkiwi teflon coated?

    Why on earth would they need to lie about this story? I can’t figure out what the point would be.

  5. Ian  •  Jun 9, 2006 @4:27 pm

    Heya fshk, couson Ian here … long time no see, eh? Glad to see you have your mom’s writing skills and political sense … must be nice, I have to deal with a brother on the complete opposite side of the political spectrum, and two parents who generally agree with me but think I’m way too radical for my own good 🙂 … I *have* read about this vaccine flap, thought for sure the fda was gonna cave to the anti-life xians… I think alyosha above nailed it tho … money trumps god for neocon style republicans, every time.


  6. Ian  •  Jun 9, 2006 @4:30 pm

    dammit, meant to do a spellcheck on that word “cuzan” before posting, forgot … wouldn’t want you to think I’m stooopid or something … “kosan”. There, all better.


  7. fshk  •  Jun 9, 2006 @5:21 pm


    Aw, shucks, thanks alyosha.

    Actually, Britwit, I’m not Donna, but commenter Donna is also guest-posting.

    Hi, Ian!

    And generally speaking: one of the stories I linked to, maybe the Times story, indicated that it’s likely only something like 45% of women will have access to the vaccine, that it’s unlikely that women without private insurance will have access. Of course.

  8. Swami  •  Jun 9, 2006 @6:28 pm

    I agree with you… the Zarqawi story is a dead issue.

    You’ve got your mother’s voice…

  9. Swami  •  Jun 9, 2006 @6:30 pm

    Oh, almost forgot…. great title on this post.

  10. Donna  •  Jun 9, 2006 @7:37 pm

    Oops, fshk beat me to it….Britwit, I am not Maha’s daughter. But I can tell you the real daughter who did this post is one smart gal. When Maha took off, fshk, Maha’s real daughter, gave me help throughout the day so that I could navigate the system for posting

    Thanks for that, fshk, and thanks for your ‘kids will play’ post.. The line I like best is when you said, “why not say we are administering a vaccine for cancer……take sex out of the equation.”

  11. erinyes  •  Jun 9, 2006 @8:51 pm

    Dear Justme,
    “Why on earthould they need to lie about this story?”
    They cannot tell the truth, they are fixated on creating new realities for us to study.

  12. A Canadian reader  •  Jun 9, 2006 @9:06 pm

    Hi fshk,

    Yesterday I was at the hospital for some allergy tests and passed by a table where some nurses were fundraising for cancer research. I stopped to give a donation and chat and mentioned the new vaccine to them and how the religious right is so against it (for the reasons you outlined in your post). They were absolutely shocked at the stupidity of that point of view.

    I think we in Canada have a few fewer right-wing nutcases, though vigilance is always de rigueur.

  13. Alexis  •  Jun 9, 2006 @10:08 pm

    One would think that a vaccine that helps to prevent any type of cancer would be reason to rejoice. Just shows how skewed people’s views are by irrational beliefs. It’s the old “if you give the condoms, they will have sex” argument. Condoms or no, people are going to have sex anyway, so why not make it safer?

  14. Britwit  •  Jun 10, 2006 @5:47 pm

    comment no 4

    Yes, I noticed and thought that it was damn odd. He was dead and than he wasn’t and than he was!


  15. Britwit  •  Jun 10, 2006 @6:08 pm

    correction “then” instead of “than”

  16. Suzanne  •  Jul 29, 2006 @5:27 pm

    It’s not just religious conservatives who are opposed to mandatory HPV vaccination. Check out this article: http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_suzanne__060725_it_s_not_just_religi.htm


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