January 13, 2016

The HPV Vaccine: "You have sons, why do you care?"

Human Papillomavirus causes more than 17,000 women and 9,000 men to endure related cancers in the United States every year. These include cervical, anal, penile, and oral (throat) cancers.

And yet, whenever I engage with an antivaccine argument on the topic, it seems like they invariably come down to one question: You have sons. Why do you care?

It boggles the mind to even try to formulate an answer to this question--not because I don't have good reasons, but because the idea that I don't have a good reason simply because I have boys would ever cross someone's mind at all.

My response boils down to three main points: one, my sons are still susceptible to cancers that are caused by HPV--uncommon doesn't mean impossible; two, my sons may very well not be straight, putting them at an increased risk; and three, I love my future son/daughter-in-laws.

Point 1: My sons are still susceptible.

It's inarguable that HPV-related cancers affect women more than men. The stats that I pointed out above show that almost twice as many women as men develop HPV-related cancers.

But uncommon doesn't mean impossible.

Most sexually active humans will contract HPV at some point. It's a part of sexual activity. While most of these infections clear up on their own with no lasting side effects, some won't. The probability that my sons will contract HPV like the majority of humans, coupled with the fact that HPV increases the risk of developing some cancers even in men, and topped with the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine as demonstrated multiple times over...yes, it all weighs heavily on the "get thee to the doctor and get them the fuck vaccinated" side of the equation.

And all of these, in my opinion, are valid reasons for me to be concerned about HPV vaccination rates as a whole. The truth is, my sons are going to have sex someday. They may have sex with men, with women, with gender-fluid people, with all of the above. None of that is any business of mine...but making sure that they are safe? That is my business. It has been my business from the moment I knew I was carrying them. And when it comes to HPV, there are two ways that I do that: vaccinating my sons and encouraging others to vaccinate their children, who are potential sexual partners for my sons.

So yes, I have a vested interest in making sure that accurate information regarding HPV vaccinations gets out there.

Point 2: My sons may not be heterosexuals.

I have no way of knowing, while they are both young, where my sons stand on their sexual orientations. I know some people know very early in their lives, but I also understand that not everyone does.

And HPV affects males who have sex with other males more than it affects males who have sex with females. Much like women, these men face multiple avenues of potential transmission.

And again, it's my job to make sure that my sons are safe. With the safety and effectiveness of the HPV vaccines available, it seems unacceptable not to mitigate the risk that they may contract HPV from future partners--especially if their overall risk increases.

Point 3: I love my future son/daughter-in-laws.

It's highly likely that somewhere out there, right now, my sons' future partners are wandering this earth.

And, should they or their parents ever encounter this blog, I'd like to say upfront: I love you. I am grateful for the love and support that you give my child.

You see, I accept that I am raising young people who will pick the right partner. I trust them. I trust myself in my raising of them. So I know, several decades before they ever begin looking for this person, that said person is wonderful. They will be an amazing addition to our family.

And, as such, I want to protect them too.

Many men with HPV don't realize that they have it. They are asymptomatic, and there's no reliable routine screening for HPV, especially for heterosexual males. It's entirely possible that if my sons contracted it, they would have no idea, and thus could unknowingly pass it on to other partners.

That is also unacceptable to me.

What's also unthinkable is the idea that a young man or woman could come into my son's life, that he could love this person, form a permanent relationship with them, perhaps even have children with them--my grandchildren--and then a preventable cancer could tear that person from all of our lives. I've seen the devastation that an untimely death due to cancer can cause a family, and I don't want that. I don't want that for my sons. I don't want that for my (potential) grandchildren. I don't want that for our family, who will love this person.

So I will continue to argue and speak out for HPV vaccination. I will vaccinate my own children to protect their partners, and I hope beyond hope that the parents of their partners will do the same--to protect my children not only from cancer, but from the pain that losing a loved one to it can cause.


So yes, I have a vested interest not only in vaccinating my own children, but in making sure that others are vaccinated too.

I won't apologize for any of these reasons--not for caring about my own children's health, and not for caring about the health of the people they will know and love in the future.

I hope that I live to see the day when no one has to answer this question because we all realize that we're interconnected, that it's a web of a life we live together and what affects one of us affects others too. I hope that I live to see a day when the antivaccination movement is nothing but a memory, a blight on our shared social consciousness and nothing more.

But until that day, I'll be here, loudly trumpeting my support for public health and vaccination.

You can count on it.

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