Okay, I actually DON’T ‘get’ this one »« Get it?

Good thing we’re studying the important issues

We live, as we ever have, in a time of great uncertainty. Climate change is undeniable, but specific and plausible paths forward are seemingly beyond our grasp. We face an inscrutable economic future, with a whirlwind of contradicting ideas constantly blowing around us. Despite the progress we’ve made unlocking the mysteries of the cell and the double-helix, human health is still very much a crap-shoot. Genetic manipulation of food, once seeming to hold the promise for the cure to world hunger, has revealed itself to be far more complex than we could have imagined. In the face of these interminable unanswered questions, it’s hard to look at the scientific enterprise as something upon which we can consistently rely.

And yet, even with such epistemic despondency so justified, there are occasional bright spots where we can lean confidently upon the rigour that science provides us and make confident conclusions about the world. For it is science, that great illuminator, that has finally bestowed upon our poor race a great and fundamental certainty, answering once and for all one of the great questions that has plagued mankind, lo these many years: does getting an HPV vaccination turn your daughter into, like, a total slutbag?

Shots that protect against cervical cancer do not make girls promiscuous, according to the first study to compare medical records for vaccinated and unvaccinated girls. The researchers didn’t ask girls about having sex, but instead looked at “markers” of sexual activity after vaccination against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV. Specifically, they examined up to three years of records on whether girls had sought birth control advice; tests for sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy; or had become pregnant.

Very few of the girls who got the shots at age 11 or 12 had done any of those over the next three years, or by the time they were 14 or 15. Moreover, the study found no difference in rates of those markers compared with unvaccinated girls.

The study involved nearly 1,400 girls enrolled in a Kaiser Permanente health plan in Atlanta. Results were published online Monday in Pediatrics.

I barely know where to start with this one. I think a better research topic might be what the hell is wrong with people who think this is actually worth studying? There was consternation (from idiots) when the HPV vaccine came out that, with the elimination of the risk of cervical cancer (a fact only in evidence for the past 20 years and even then not exactly widely-known until a vaccine came out), little girls pre-teens all over the world would suddenly begin throwing caution to the wind and start banging each other’s brains out [commenter AsqJames points out the problem with the original wording - C]. I can only imagine their fevered fantasies about conversations like this one:

Archie: Hey Betty, would you like to engage in some consensual sexual intercourse?

Betty: I dunno, Archie. As a 14 year-old girl, I am acutely preoccupied with my 1 in 134 lifetime risk of developing cervical cancer.

Archie: Wait, but aren’t regular Pap smears and rapidly-improving technologies reducing cervical mortality year-by-year?

Betty: Why yes, Archie. Still though, since I cannot be absolutely 100% sure that I will never contract HPV, which by the way is the only health issue associated with sexual activity, I think I shall decline your offer of hot cock ‘n’ balls.

Archie: Aw, shucks! I guess I’ll just have to go to church instead!

This is a conversation I can more or less guarantee has happened exactly not ever. Anyone who thinks that a risk of possibly developing cervical cancer factors into the decision-making process when kids are figuring out if they’re ready for sex needs to report back to the rest of us post-haste regarding what colour the sky is on the planet they live on. Kids, like most people, are more likely to attend to risks according to their immediacy and likelihood – pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia or HIV, social stigma associated with sexual activity – as opposed to the far-flung actuarial calculus of cervical cancer. We’ve known about the risk of lung cancer from smoking for decades – youth smoking rates only started dropping when we actually started making policy about it, and when the stigma of smoking began to outweigh its ‘cool’ factor.

No, the kind of people who are likely to worry about whether or not kids are at risk of cancer are most often referred to as ‘mom’ or ‘dad’. It’s the parents who are supposed to take the long view and encourage their children to do things that keep them safe. Often that means providing kids with the information they need to make informed decisions about sexual activity; other times it means fostering the kind of safe and open environment where kids feel comfortable asking questions; it can also mean building up children’s self-esteem such that they can feel confident in their decision to say no or yes. Those tasks are tough for any parent, to be sure. But one easy thing to do to keep your kid safe is to let her (and/or him, depending on the jurisdiction) get a goddamn HPV shot!

The fact is that the kinds of parents who think that keeping their kid at risk for cervical cancer is the lesser of two evils (the other evil being, I guess, sex of any kind) aren’t going to rely on science when they make their decisions anyway. These parents don’t live in a world where facts are to be relied upon – they live in one where every pre-teen is well-versed in the epidemiology literature, and where cervical cancer is YahwAlladdha’s punishment for spreading your legs and letting “Hell’s Punishment Virus” into your god-box. And there’s no scientific study in the world that can build a bridge across the yawning chasm of that kind of cartoonish ignorance.

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