There is no question that parental expectations play a role in teenage sexual behavior. An annual poll taken by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, for example, shows that 87 percent of teens think it would be easier to postpone sex and avoid teen pregnancy if they had open, honest discussions with their parents. And a whopping 92 percent say they think "society should provide them with a strong message to not have sex until they are at least out of high school."
Of course, "society" sends exactly the opposite messages in advertising, television, film and popular music.
What makes the campaign to vaccinate pre-pubescent girls against HPV all the more puzzling is what we know about current cervical cancer rates. Cervical cancer, while a killer worldwide, has been reduced dramatically in the U.S. by screening women through the use of a simple test, the Pap smear. Since 1955, cervical cancer rates are down 74 percent.
Fewer than one in 10,000 women over 18 will get cervical cancer each year, and only about one in 30,000 will die from it, mostly those who failed to be tested on a regular basis and, therefore, didn't discover they had the disease until its later stages. Moreover, of those who do end up with cervical cancer, the majority contracted HPV, which usually takes 10-20 years to cause cancer, in their 20s or 30s.
Parents ought to be able to make decisions about when to vaccinate their daughters against HPV on their own, without pressure from schools or lawmakers. Responsible parents might even use the occasion to open a frank discussion with their daughters about the dangers of all sexually transmitted diseases and the value of delaying sexual activity.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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