I took my 11-year-old son (we'll call him "E" out of protection for his future teen self who may or may not read this) for a back-to-school check-up recently. He's in need of a Tdap vaccine, apparently (clearly, I'm less than on-point about keeping up with the vaccine schedule - and somewhat cautious about which vaccines are necessary and which aren't).
After undergoing his first official "pre-teen" health exam while I was in the room with him, E. turned to me slightly red-faced and sighed, obviously thrilled at its completion. It was at that moment his pediatrician addressed me, "Okay, Mom (why are we all the monolithically named, Stepford wife-esque "Mom?"), he looks great."
"Just one more thing..."
He glances sidelong, ever so briefly, at E. and looks back to me.
"Have you thought at all about the HPV vaccine?"
Now, as a reproductive and sexual health advocate and writer I'm always quick to jump in ever-so-proudly when conversation turns to these issues - like a fourth-grade know-it-all who can't wait to show off her knowledge: oooh! oooh! I know this! I know this!
But, I admit that his question caught me off guard. I'd read very little, to be honest, about the pros and cons of the HPV vaccine for boys and young men.
There are currently two HPV vaccines on the market: Cervarix and Gardasil. Both prevent against the most prevalent strains of HPV known to cause cervical cancer, but Gardasil also protects against the strains that cause genital warts. The price tags for both are hefty - anywhere between $120 - $260 per dose. And you need three shots over a period of nine months. Most private insurers cover it, however, and it's also covered by the federal government's Vaccines for Children program. Still, for those without private insurance it can certainly be prohibitively expensive.
In 2006, amidst growing concern over the prevalence of HPV - it's the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States - Gardasil was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for girls and women ages 9 to 26 years old. But, as with everything else related to female sexuality, it wasn't without its share of controversy. Anti-sex ed, anti-choice Conservatives screamed that vaccinating girls and young women would give them license to become sexually active sooner - even "promiscuous."
In October 2009, the use of Gardasil was approved for males in the same age range, to protect against the two strains of HPV which cause genital warts. Strangely, this approval process did not engender the heated debate over a potential sexuality "apocalypse" it did for females. But the reality of its importance still stands - at least half of all sexually active adults in the United States will become infected with HPV at some point in their lives; over twenty million Americans are currently infected.
It's no surprise that the vaccine is now suggested for males as well.
This post was originally published at RH Reality Check, a site of news, community and commentary for reproductive health and justice