The other day, my eighth grader brought home a letter from the school,
which requested that I deny, or provide, my permission for her to receive the HPV vaccine,
newly entered into the ‘basket’ of services.
Spoiler alert, this will not be a post about whether or not to give your child the HPV vaccine,
but rather a clarification of what the vaccine is, and what it is not,
and, I think, more importantly, how it can be used as an effective segue to discuss sexuality with your child.
What is the HPV vaccine?
1. HPV, stands for Human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts, among other things.
2. Among these ‘other things’, is its proven association with cervical cancer, NOT, uterine cancer, as was written in the school letter.
3. Why a vaccine? Because reducing HPV transmission could reduce cervical cancer incidence in women. Although cervical cancer is certainly not limited to women under 35, it does have higher percentages among that age group, especially in those women with a history of more than one sexual partner.
Hence, the reason to provide it tweens/teens, preferably before their years of sexual activity.
4. A Pap smear, a gynecological exam performed routinely among women by a gynecologist every 1-3 years, takes a sample of the cervix to check for changes that could predict future development of cervical cancer.
The vaccine is not meant to replace these checkups, and certainly those women who have not had the vaccine, in addition to those who have, should have routine Pap smears.
So why is this event important?
If you haven’t yet sat down with your 11-12 year old, to discuss how her body works, the main highlights of the physical relationship, now is the perfect teachable moment. Your child asks you, what’s HPV, and you can tell her it is a virus, and explain what sexually transmitted means.
Obviously, the information and details you provide will depend on the child, their previous knowledge, and what you feel is appropriate. But don’t shy away from the opportunity.
Explain to your child what a cervix is, what the uterus is, the beauty of the physical relationship and why it’s important to have it with it someone that you love, and/or are married to, again, depending on your specific situation.
Don’t let Misrad Habriut dictate how your child will view her body or the sexual relationship. Because trust me, no matter how much you think your child doesn’t know, she’s heard, overhead, and misheard. These conversations need to be generated and cultivated by the parent, not the friend, and certainly not the ministry of health.