Free Vaccinations — Bring Your Vagina

noboysallowed CDC fact: at least 50% of sexually active men and women will acquire human papillomavirus (HPV) at some point. Most people don’t realize they have it (conversely, most people don’t know they don’t have it until blood donation centers keep trying to, like, make out with them for being HVP-free), so young adults are encouraged to get vaccinated against this STD. A healthy immune system can get rid of HPV in about two years, and those affected by HPV’s genital warts may see them disappear on their own, but the the virus’ worst potential complication, cancer, doesn’t just vanish. A recent Phoenix article on living with HPV recounts the terrors of a potential cancer diagnosis from this often invisible and harmless STD.

To spare others this pain, free preventative HPV vaccinations (also, seasonal flu vaccinations) are being offered today in Providence to women aged 16-26. Under-18’s must be accompanied by a parent/guardian, and although health insurance isn’t required to get either shot, women 18+ are asked to bring their health insurance information if they are insured. But this event, including the flu shots, is only for women.

Saturday, 10am to 2pm, 132A George M. Cohan Boulevard
Why only for women? According to the CDC, the worst complication of HPV, cancer, affects way more women. Nearly 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year; nearly 3500 with vulvar cancer; over 3000 with anal cancer; and over 2200 with vaginal cancers. Compared with men’s stats (1200 with penile/genital cancer and over 2000 with anal cancer), women are a priority for scientists and researchers. But shouldn’t those 3,200 men with HPV-related cancer have deserved a shot (heh) at prevention, too?

A recent Slate article thinks so. Its author used both feminist crit and queer crit to call out the industry, first for placing the burden of STD prevention only on women:

It’s true that HPV affects girls more than boys, but the same can be said of pregnancy. There’s still a male in the equation somewhere. Boys certainly share the pleasure. Why not share the responsibility?

and then for neglecting sexually-active gay males.

If you want to see a world where men wash dishes and do laundry, it isn’t hard to find. It’s a world where men live, have sex, and share household responsibilities with other men. They don’t have wives or girlfriends to think about and take care of everything for them. They have to do it themselves.

The same is true of protection from sexually transmitted viruses. The authors of the BMJ paper concede that they “only represented heterosexual partnerships and therefore did not reflect HPV transmission among men who have sex with men, who face a high risk of anal cancer and may realise a greater benefit from HPV vaccination.” But the argument for vaccinating gay men isn’t just that they might benefit. It’s that vaccinating women won’t help them. They can’t count on somebody else to take care of the problem.

Don’t be entirely jealous of these girls-only shots, though, guys: like any other vaccination, HPV’s carries a risk of side effects. The major (only?) U.S. HPV vaccination, Gardisil, discloses a kinda scary one on their website: “Sometimes fainting is accompanied by falling with injury, as well as shaking or stiffening and other seizure-like activity.” (I’m hoping their definition of “sometimes” means “twice, ever, and never again.”)

I should mention that today’s flu/HPV prevention clinic will include additional information on cancer prevention as well. I don’t want to focus only on the negative aspects of the good things the event’s hosts (The Partnership to Reduce Cancer in Rhode Island in conjunction with The Wellness Company) are trying to do for local women. Cheers to them and to the hope of a flu-free and STD-free season for all.

Prevent and Protect Event featuring seasonal flu and HVP vaccines, Saturday, October 17, 10am to 2pm, Center for Women and Enterprise, 132A George M. Cohan Blvd. (near Wickendon St./195), Providence. Free.

3 thoughts on “Free Vaccinations — Bring Your Vagina”

  1. I always find it interesting when discussing issues like this when people completely forgot that some guys out there actually DO want to protect themself. While I’m a few years too old for the HPV shot anyway, even as a straight male I would have gotten vaccinated. Why? Because *I* don’t want HPV.

    The conversation is framed in the context of “It’s not fair to women to expect them to be the only ones to be responsible” when the truly unfair part is that if you are a guy who wants to be responsible, your options are severely limited.

    Another area that this is common is birth control. Women have many medical options: the pill (several, in fact, so you can find one you like), the shot, the ring, IUDs, tubal ligation. What are the male medical options for birth control? Sterilization. That’s it.

    Yes, both sexes have the option of using condoms and I wholeheartedly endorse and practice safe sex with the use of condoms.. however it would be great if there was another option for men.

    Until these exist, I find it infuriating to listen to arguments like those in the Slate article about men “expecting women to take care of it for them”. Believe me, if it were possible for men to get vaccinated and to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies, many of them would, including myself.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Providence Daily Dose