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Jeopardising their health

By Nina Funnell - posted Wednesday, 1 July 2009

I’m rather pleased about the painful ache in my left arm. I’ve just had my final booster shot of Gardasil, the drug that vaccinates young women against certain types of cervical cancer caused by a strain of the human papillomavirus, known as HPV-16.

While government funding for the drug continues until December 31 this year, the course of drugs takes at least six months to complete, meaning that those who did not commence treatment before June 30 will have to pay for at least one booster shot. At $140 a pop (or $420 for all three shots), we’re not talking about loose change.

While some cash strapped women may be deterred by the price, there is another group of individuals who are at risk of developing cancer associated with HPV-16, who may miss out on Gardasil treatments altogether, namely men.


Research presented this month at the American Society of Clinical Oncology has confirmed that HPV-16 does not only cause cervical cancer. It also causes throat cancer in both men and women. This means that Gardasil may play an important role in preventing cancer in male populations.

Researchers led by Farshid Dayyani at the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, Texas, found that people who tested positive to HPV-16 were 58 times more likely to have throat cancer compared to those who had no history of having the virus.

Research has also shown that the virus is transmitted through fellatio and cunnilingus, and that both men and women who have performed oral sex on five or more partners (of either sex) are at a significantly higher risk of developing throat cancer. So much so, that they are considered to be at more risk than those who smoke or drink heavily.

While some individuals in the medical community are pushing for male Gardasil trials to begin immediately, others are more hesitant.

Unfortunately, if the Catholic Church maintains its stance that Gardasil should not be administered to young unmarried individuals because it might promote promiscuity, then many young, sexually active men may miss out on the potentially life saving vaccine.

In the past, various Catholic school principals and opinion leaders have argued that Gardasil encourages hedonism and moral depravity in unmarried women because those who are vaccinated against HPV-16 may be more likely to partake in reckless, unsafe sex under the assumption that they are now immune to cervical cancer.


After all nothing puts a girl in the mood for a bit of unprotected hanky-panky like a sharp, painful needle in the arm, right?

Of course the problem with this argument is that it assumes that fear of HPV-16 is the only (or at least a primary) factor that feeds into a young woman’s decision of whether or not to have sex. This is both ludicrous and insulting to women as it ignores the immense and complex array of emotional, psychological and social factors that inform the decision of whether or not to have sex.

According to Professor Moira Carmody, an expert in young people and sexual ethics, it is both ignorant and unhelpful to assume that health concerns around STD’s and pregnancy are the only factors that women consider when thinking about sex.

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About the Author

Nina Funnell is a freelance opinion writer and a researcher in the Journalism and Media Research Centre at the University of New South Wales. In the past she has had work published in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Age, The Brisbane Times and in the Sydney Star Observer. Nina often writes on gender and sexuality related issues and also sits on the management committee of the NSW Rape Crisis Centre.

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