HPV (or human papillomavirus) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in this country among men and women. In fact, it’s so common that nearly all sexually active people get it at some point in their lives. There are different types of HPV, many of which cause unpleasant things like warts on the genitals and surrounding skin. But what most people don’t know is that HPV can cause cervical and other cancers, including those of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus and mouth. Other people can give you cancer. Think about that. It’s a lot for a kid to digest. To be honest, it’s a lot for a mom, too. This is no longer theoretical. Getting the HPV vaccine means they are actively preparing themselves for something that cannot yet be imagined in any real or meaningful way. That’s the thing about HPV. It needs to be talked about BEFORE it becomes real.
Parenting is so fun.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that 11- to 12-year-old boys and girls get two doses of the HPV vaccine six to 12 months apart to protect against the cancers caused by the virus. (Gardasil 9, the HPV vaccine, is now approved for use in everyone between the ages of 9 and 45.) I surveyed a bunch of trusted advisers— friends whose opinions I value and who have children of similar ages or older— to ask whether their sons and daughters had gotten their HPV vaccines yet and how they felt about it.
Their reactions ran the gamut from, “Yes, of course” to “I’m afraid of potential side effects” to “Are you crazy? My baby’s not ready.” (For the record, there is no science pointing to terrible side effects relating to the HPV vaccine, despite what you may have read online.)
So now I’m stuck, once again, processing my children’s sexuality in new, yet more concrete ways. And this discussion is happening in homes and doctors' offices across the country. Some people may think nothing of it, some may have a hard time with the discussions, and others may not discuss it at all. But one thing is clear in my mind: If I can prevent my children from getting certain cancers, I’m sure as hell going to do it.