HPV Vaccines Are Not Just For Women

I mentioned in a previous post that I went to a comedy club on Thursday night. As I said before, many of the comics were quite funny, but there was one man that angered me because his jokes were so far out of the realm of reality.

Before I talked about his “history of sluts,” but now I want to talk about what he said about the HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccine is effective in preventing cervical cancer in women. There are two HPV vaccines out there – Gardasil and Cervarix. The vaccine also protects against oral, anal, vulvar, vaginal and other rare genital cancers caused by HPV as well as against genital warts.

What did the comedian say that made me decide to write about this? He said he went to Planned Parenthood for a bi-annual check-up, and the practitioner suggested the HPV vaccine for him based on his sexual activity. So far, so good, right? He then went on to say, “You know what the HPV vaccine does? It prevents cervical and oral cancer.” He said this while insinuating these were entirely women’s issues and that it was ridiculous (thus the joke) to suggest a man get an HPV vaccine.

The thing is, while cervical cancer is the most talked of (and I think the most common?) cancer caused by HPV, men are not immune to the virus’s cancer-causing properties. Men have mouths, do they not? And many men use those mouths on women’s genitalia to induce pleasure (or kiss women who may have contracted oral HPV from another individual). Men can get HPV-induced oral cancer, too.

[straight]* Men can get genital warts, oral cancer, and presumably anal cancer from contracting the virus just as women can. The Wikipedia article also seems to indicate the possibility of HPV causing penile cancer. It’s folly and counterproductive for a man to insinuate that the HPV vaccine is somehow just a women’s issue on the basis that HPV only causes problems for women. HPV is dangerous for both sexes.

Worse, the insinuation that men shouldn’t get this vaccine, even promiscuous men, suggests a lack of understanding of herd immunity. If men and women are vaccinated against HPV, there are fewer individuals who can spread HPV. Even if women were the only sex to experience negative effects from contracting HPV, so long as the vaccine were safe for men vaccinating them could only help the situation. If a man is vaccinated, his promiscuity will not result in his carrying the HPV vaccine to all his partners, just as a woman being vaccinated prevents her spreading the virus. Most chains of infection could be shortened by popularizing this vaccine.

The increase in immunity to the virus via the vaccine necessarily means a decrease in the number of people who can transmit the virus. Never mind the protection the vaccine may afford men, if it only protected women from just one type of cancer – cervical – it would still be worth immunizing as much as the population as possible.

*I might be making an unfair assumption, but it seems to me that this man thinks transmission of the virus to the mouth happens only when a penis is in a mouth. He clearly had a hetero-normative perspective, but if he thought about it he probably would have insinuated only women and gay men are affected by oral HPV-induced cancer. Also, I apologize for the generally hetero-normative perspective reflected by this blog post. I fully realize the potential for women and men of all sexual persuasions to be affected by HPV. It was the prompt of the comedian’s misinformation that led me to write this, and it is therefore framed by a heterosexual idea of sexual relationships.

** I am not a doctor. I learned what I know about the vaccine through the nurse practitioner who administered it to me, through the literature made available to me at that time, and through the information on the internet.

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