Justice For Women

In the Church. In the World.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Jill Stanek and HPV: an uncomfortable truth

While I should be working on a piece I am writing for Girlistic, I was unfortunately distracted (as I sometimes can be) by ProLifeBlogs. What pushed the ol' button today, however, had nothing to do with the abortion debate, but solely with shaming women. Jill Stanek, World Net Daily columnist, posted "HPV and Lung Cancer", in which singles out two high-profile women who have "come out" about their HPV status in an effort to get women vaccinated. Stanek lists some behaviors that these women should talk about instead of the vaccine:
Winokur and Halvorson would be most helpful by discussing the health consequences of pre- or extra-marital sex. Here are some potential topics:

-They could discuss the number of sex partners they have had throughout their lifetime and how each one increased the likelihood of contracting HPV.
-If they even had only one sex partner aside from their husbands, they could discuss how one can contract HPV from a sole encounter.
-They could discuss whether they realized at the time their sex partners carried HPV, which most trusting, vulnerable women don't.
-They could disclose whether it was their husbands who passed HPV on to them after sleeping with other women, demonstrating another reason for chaste behavior outside the marraige [sic] bedroom.
-More uncomfortably, if they contracted HPV through rape, they could discuss ways to avoid rape.

But neither one advocates avoiding a risky behavior that leads not only to HPV but to 20+ other STDs and their strains, along with unplanned pregnancy. They merely advocate trying to avoid the consequences of risky behavior. Shame on them.

Since HPV is a virus spread by human contact, let's imagine that Stanek was talking about the flu, another virus spread by human contact that is preventable by a routine vaccine, using yours truly as the subject:
Johanna would be most helpful by discussing the health consequences of pre- or extra-marital contact with other people. here are some potential topics:

-She could discuss the number of times she left the house during flu season, flew on a plane, interacted with sick people in a closed space, or shook hand with someone throughout her lifetime, and how each time it increased the likelihood of contracting the flu.
-If she encountered even one person besides her partner, she could discuss how you could contract the flu from a sole encounter.
-She could discuss whether she realized her classmates, co-workers, family and friends carried the flu, which most trusting, vulnerable women don't.
-She could disclose whether it was her partner who passed the flu onto her after encountering other people, demonstrating the reason for touching no one outside the home.
-More uncomfortably, if she contracted the flu from someone coughing on her against her will, she could discuss ways to avoid someone coughing on you against your will.

Hyperbole? Yes. Relevant? I think so. Especially when you consider that Stanek's discussion points a) put women in the victim role (trusting, vulnerable, taking it for their husband's bad behavior) and b) blaming them for it (The whole "rape prevention" thing irks me - how about rapists STOP RAPING? That should effectively prevent rape!).

While I will not argue that HPV is most often spread through sexual contact, and that abstinence IS a very effective tool for preventing STDs and pregnancy, I don't think women should die for having consensual (and in Stanek's "uncomfortable" scenario, certainly not non-consensual) sex. And women who choose to be sexually active will not be the only victims of HPV. Read one of the heartbreaking comments to this post on Stanek's blog:
I fully agree that a sexually pure life is God's way and it protects you from all kinds of sexually transmitted disease. But I still have HPV.

I don't blame God or abstinence for it. I just get a heartache when I read statements like yours. It makes us that have HPV into some immoral women, or at best stupid and naive. We are not, or at least I am not. I have a friend who is still a virgin and she's got HPV.

Furthermore, I don't think that a virus, or the status of having a virus, can be enough to make moral judgments on another person. While certain choices can reduce your risk, the risk remains, and being smart and utilizing preventative measures will save lives. Why is that something that is so upsetting to Stanek and her ilk?

I am reminded of a young woman who I encountered in the debate groups on MySpace, who I will call P., who waited until she was married to have sex, had a faithful husband, gave birth to two kids, was fervently pro-life - and who had cervical cancer by age 22 due to HPV. She did everything right by the conservative book, but she was the one facing infertility at 22. She is an ardent activist for universal access to the HPV vaccine, and will vaccinate her daughter.

Conversely, don't let this post lead you to believe that I think only those who have lived a "perfect" life deserve the vaccine. I simply use these stories to illustrate the fact that HPV doesn't care who or how, it will attack when it has the chance. ALL women deserve access to the vaccine at an affordable price, because sex should is not a crime punishable by death.


  • At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Can we mention the fact that something in the neighborhood of 80% of all sexually active adults have HPV? And that you can get it from your husband even if he's not cheating on you?

  • At 10:07 AM, Blogger Johanna for Justice said…

    yes, Ms/Mr Anonymous, we certainly can! :)

  • At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Bravo, Johanna!
    Jill Stanek is obviously a lunatic or a complete sensationalist of the lowest form. You, on the other hand have apparently thought this through in more depth and see it isn't simply trashy women sleeping around and suffering God's wrath.
    The issue of pre-marital sex and promiscuity is mute here. It seems the facts to consider boil down to: it is a virus; it is deadly; there is a solution.
    Thanks for blogging on this. You've inspired me to go to something good - off I go!

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