Be My Valentine - have the HPV Vaccine, sweetheart

Be My Valentine” takes on new meaning when we inoculate little girls for a virus only contracted in sexual contact. Rather than laugh at honor, Virginia’s representatives may want to consider how to empower parents and teens to make good sexual decisions that last for a lifetime.

The Virginia General Assembly House has passed a bill to mandate the Human Papilloma Virus Vaccine for middle school girls. HB 2035 is sponsored by Delegate Hamilton (R-Newport News). The bill, characterized as a vaccine that may help prevent cervical cancer, impliedly assumes sexual activity among very young girls. Age nine and up, in fact. While most nine year old girls are still much more interested in climbing trees, our elected representatives want to give our little girls a Valentine – the HPV vaccine. The thinking is to encourage inoculation early before these little girls become sexually active. Sexually active nine year olds? Most parents still do not encourage their 19 year old unmarried daughters (or sons for that matter) toward an active sexual life, knowing the host of concerns and dangers (physically, emotionally, socially and professionally) that could enter their child’s world as a result. Kids may know them all too well also.

Parents and kids who have thought through and talked through the holistic nature of sexuality were relieved when the Pilot reported on Saturday February 3, that “after an at-times emotional debate” the bill was amended to allow parents and their little girls to opt out. The Pilot might have been aware of these parents and kids who hold to a higher moral view of sexuality when it reported originally on this matter on Jan. 18. “Although health care providers have hailed the vaccine as a major breakthrough in the prevention of cervical cancer, there has been an undercurrent of concern about young girls being vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease.”

According to the CDC, cervical cancer is caused by what’s now considered a type of common virus, human papillomavirus, or HPV. Genital HPV is contracted by sexual activity involving genital contact (intercourse is not necessarily required), is easily transmitted, so any exposure can put a non-carrier at risk. In fact, according to the CDC, the only way you can totally protect yourself against HPV is to avoid any sexual activity that involves genital contact. A brochure produced by pharmaceutical giant Merck explains that the CDC recommends a few things that can be done to decrease chances of contracting HPV, two of the foremost of which are limiting sexual partners, and staying in a long-term relationship with someone who doesn’t have HPV.

HB 2035 is being offered to assist in diminishing the likelihood of cervical cancer, but it wrongly assumes all girls and boys will have sex in their teens – or at least have sexual contact. It is premised on the ideology that the only way to live is to expect to be sexually active at a very young age, and more than likely, not in a secure stable environment that will constitute a lifetime relationship. Furthermore, it assumes young girls cannot or will not think thru their own sexuality with any sense of morality or emotional consequence of sexual encounters. It assumes natural instinct and biology always control over personal common and moral sense. It essentially assumes promiscuity.

Interested citizens should ask who will benefit from this legislation. Virginia’s pharmaceutical economy will. HB 2035 looks a lot like profit driven legislation for special interests. According to PharmaLive, the website that calls itself the pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry, GlaxoSmithKline’s form of the vaccine, CERVARIX, and Merck’s GARDASIL are doing a head-to-head trial of their drugs to compare immune responses. These HPV vaccines are just one year old, and still being studied. The Pilot has already reported that the vaccine wards against only 4 of the nearly 100 HPV strains. The FDA itself hailed this rapid approval in a news release dated June 8, 2006.

At minimum the vaccine should be optional if promoted at all, but if mandatory Virginia would be one of the first ten states to do so. A state mandate subjugates family strength and a sense of personal responsibility on the part of teens. With the opt out amendment, it is likely that such options will still be arduous and inconvenient, pushing many to acquiesce to the vaccine, and to the elitist vision of sexuality – that everyone is doing it. Such acquiescence, however, makes it easier for little girls to be taken advantage of sexually under the false premise of viral protection – a result not possibly considered by our representatives who so strongly support this legislation. A culture saturated with sexuality reaps outcomes never before imagined, which are now becoming apparent in the necessary agenda our Attorney General has had to adopt targeting sexual predators. Thus, the HPV vaccine for girls effectively serves to further exploit children by more than pharmaceutical companies. My law students at Regent University realize their decisions reap consequences, personally and professionally, for them and their families. Laws we decide to adopt may also have unintended consequences.

Adults, particularly moms and dads, must be encouraged to be responsible for the children they love by believing in them as much more than succumbing sexual beings. Character building is the stuff parenting is made of. Jumping to the assumption that a little girl will certainly become sexually active and therefore likely to contract HPV, and therefore more likely to contract cervical cancer is focused on cutting off the problem at the earliest age, rather than empowering teens to make good decisions based on sound reasoning that is not controlled by mere sexual instinct. Somehow we lull ourselves into thinking sexual activity is void of anything but physical consequences, or we’ll make it so. This legislation is the latest attempt to strip responsible individuals of their own decision making and autonomy. There are still teens and adults who have chosen to have the safest sex possible – with their awaited marriage partner only. Little girls and little boys can and do chose to save sexual encounters until marriage. Recent statistics show that those who are sexually pure before marriage will be sexually faithful during marriage, and reap a divorce rate of far under the national 40% average. The HPV vaccine and supporting legislation will not reap marital fidelity, but further family breakdown.

When states endorse early sexuality these issues are forced on kids who aren’t even ready to think about sex. Peer pressure on kids to become sexually active is already burdensome in high school. This bill endorses middle school sexuality, revealing our deeper moral void. Our legislators hope to empower Virginians to be decent and honorable and healthy, yet pass laws that strip us of the ability to be personally responsible. In his commentary on education entitled The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis noted that we create individuals with no moral core when we strip them of the values required to make a good decision. “…Such is the tragic-comedy of our situation – we continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible… drive… dynamism…self-sacrifice…creativity. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the gelding be fruitful.” Rather than laugh at honor, Virginia’s representatives should consider how to empower parents and teens to make good sexual decisions that last for a lifetime.


  1. Great post! Glad to have found your blog Professor Kohm.

    Last I heard, Kansas (a stone's throw West from here) was also considering mandatory HPV vaccines starting with six grade girls. It's really sad that our post-modern American society would rather propose quick-fixes than teach young people the importance of sexual purity before marriage and sexual fidelity after marriage. It really just ignores the root causes of the spread of HPV (and all other STDs for that matter).

    Anyway, I hope all is well with you. I'll look forward to future posts. I'm taking the bar exam at the end of the month and wouldn't mind a prayer my way if you think of it. Take care, Jeremiah

  2. Unbelievable. Sinply mind-boggling. They finally come up with a vaccine to prevent cancer and you are against it, because you would rather see young girls die a painful and unnecessary death from an ugly but preventable disease than risk "encouraging them to think about sex." That is reprehensible, and as a so-called "Christian" you should be ashamed of yourself.

    Giving girls this insurance against a particularly widespread - and now medically preventable - form of cancer does absolutely nothing to undermine any messages her parents may want to teach her about sexual activity.

    If you were honest about this issue, you would acknowledge that the reason public health officials need to encourage vaccination at such a young age is because the vaccination is useless in a child who has already been infected with HPV, so it's necessary to vaccinate girls BEFORE they become sexually active. With girls now experimenting with sex in junior high school, the age of nine is considered the latest safe age at which girls can be effectively vaccinated prior to such contact. That doesn't mean that they are expected to have sex at that age (at least, not anywhere except in your fevered imagination, that is).

    But you and your right-wing theocratic pals choose to ignore that simple fact in your goal to legislate your religious dogma into law. Instead, you misrepresent the facts about the vaccine and cast aspersions on the public health officials who have a responsible approach to this epidemic.

    And news flash, "professor" - there are cases of girls as young as nine who ARE having sex. It's distressing, but true. And your wishful thinking and Ozzie-and-Harriet view of the world does nothing to obviate that fact. If this is the kind of reasoning they are teaching at your law school, it's no wonder that only half of your school's graduates manage to pass the bar exam.

  3. This is outrageous and even more surprising that people actually comment without understanding that this vaccine will NOT prevent cervial cancer completely and it only lasts a specific amount of time. I have two eleven year old daughters and believe that it is the PARENTS RIGHT to decide if they want thier child to receive this vaccine. Why should I give this to my daughters because the government says I should. It is my business and RIGHT as a parent to decide what to do for my daughters.