Monday, 5 November 2007

How to...prevent the prevention of cancer

Well you may have heard the word about the 'tubes' several months ago about a vaccine for Human papillomavirus (HPV) and how this will lead to a reduction in cases of cervical cancer.

Well it has been recently announced here that the government intends to fund it for preteens (I remember hearing 12 year olds mentioned on the radio this morning- have not been able to find much recent information on the web to follow up this). Religious groups (mostly with "family" in the name) are up in arms about this since HPV is a sexually transmitted infection and so promotion of this vaccine, is seen (by them) as a free pass for young girls to have sex.

Mostly this ranting by religious groups is done in relation with the promotion of abstinence only sex education which has been shown in studies to not work. So unsuccessful is the idea of abstinence only sex education, that some regions have experience higher STI rates, higher teen pregnancy rates (and abortions), and most importantly lower ages of first sexual experience.

Even if the abstinence only education programs worked, that would still not be a reason for the fallacious argument being made here. Unfortunately whatever you do teens will have sex mostly when they want to rather than when you want them to, largely because they are trying to be adult and have some control over their own lives. A lot of young teens will regret experiences that that try, such as having sex, but for them to have to deal with cancer as a possible repercussion of that, when they can be protected against it, is cruel and unusual.

Now I am in agreement that young teens are not ready to have sex (in fact some older teens aren't either) it is a complex mental and emotional development issue which tends to run contrary to the physical development and urges of puberty. But what is the best way to get some one to do something - forbid them to do it, and then provide no further information.

If you are going to teach adolescents responsibility you have to give them all the information about it and let them be responsible. Teach them about safe sex practices, and tell them about the consequences and counsel them so that they know when they are ready.

So whatever high horse the religious groups are on they should get off it before they fall. Of course this would not have been a problem in the days when girls where married off at 13 (or younger), no need to worry about premarital sex then.