Wednesday, November 02, 2005

On treating the disease

Okay, so Sadly, No! points us to a somewhat underrecognized debate over the new cervical cancer vaccine. While the vaccine appears to be nearly 100% effective against HPV, which causes all kinds of fun cancerous lesions on the cervix and kills 3,700 women a year, fundies are getting their (respectable, white cotton, high-waisted granny-)panties in a wad because such protection against HPV will give teenagers enough confidence to scrog up a storm.

Normally, I'd take this opportunity to make some kind of a snarky comment about how kids these days are so pure and chaste and Pleasantville-ish, and how dare anyone threaten that innocence with a potentially life-saving vaccine, but PZ Meyers had to go and put it better than I ever could:
Here's a disease that kills about a third of the women who get it. It turns their reproductive tract into a nest of tumors that can spread and shut down the kidneys, metastasize to the lungs, the gut, everywhere, that sterilizes them and can cause horrible agony. The treatment involves radical hysterectomy, bilateral adnexectomy and lymphadenectomy, words I'd rather my family never even have to learn.

And it's preventable.

Yet these sick, evil people want to be able to hold this horrible disease as a threat to their daughters, their friends' daughters, their neighbors' daughters—they want to be able to say to their kids, "If you don't obey my rules, your womb will rot and dribble out your private parts, and you'll thrash in pain for a while before you die and go to hell." They like the idea of a disease that they can say is not prevented by condoms, so they can continue to preach abstinence with threats.

So there's that.

My question is this: what is this obsession with treating the symptoms of teen sex? It's not just fundie wingnut parents who want their kids to hold off on the sex. My wholly moderate parents gave me the big abstinence talk all throughout my youth, not just because we're Catholic and Catholics are supposed to wait but because a thirteen-year-old girl doesn't have the emotional and logical capacity to make reasonable decisions about things as potentially life-changing as sex. I understand all of this now, but at the time, it was just a "because I said so" rule that I followed because I respected, trusted, and, yeah, feared my parents (just a bit).

They did something else, though - they hedged their bets and taught me the rest of the lesson. I got the block-rockingest pop-up book when I was about five that taught me all about how babies were made (move the little tab and the sperm fertilizes the egg, then turn the wheel to watch the fetus develop...), and when I was older I got the lecture on the various methods of birth control. I also got the stern warning that if I ever did think about getting groiny with a guy, I should only do it with someone I'd want to raise a kid with, 'cause that sort of thing can happen whether you want it to or not.

When I was a teenager, the temptation was all over the place. Between kids my age who were itching to try it out and older kids who had tried it out and were itching to do it some more, sex was everywhere. My junior year of high school, we had three baby showers in homeroom. I managed to avoid the indignity of stretch marks and the cost of a new wardrobe not because my parents had completely sheltered my from sex, but because they had adequately removed the mystery from it. I didn't need to explore; I'd read the book, I'd talked openly with my parents, and the whole thing just didn't seem that impressive.

And yet some parents think that they can make teen sex go away by making it horrible and dangerous. Kids are only doing it because they think they can get away with it, right? So if we make sure the consequences are unavoidable, they'll stop, right? If we can keep them completely in the dark about birth control, completely unprotected from STDs, completely unable to do anything about an unplanned pregnancy (from consensual or nonconsensual sex), they won't do it, right? Because thirteen-year-olds tend to be logical and think through the potential consequences of their actions.

Parents, here's the solution to teen sex: be parents. Love your kids enough to want them to be safe no matter what. You make them use their seatbelts whether or not you expect to get into a car accident, so why would you send them out into an increasingly sexualized world without the slightest clue about how to protect themselves? When you were a kid, sex was a mystery and only the naughty kids did it; these days, it's a sport. It's an after-school activity after the Xbox gets boring. Do you really, seriously think that little Aschleeigh is going to say, "You know what? I don't think that douching with Coke does prevent pregnancy, so I'm going to hold off. Who's up for Scrabble?"

And Jesus, God, people, be there for your kids. Condoms don't cause teen sex; two fifteen-year-olds with nothing to do for three hours after school causes teen sex. Four thirteen-year-old girls in Playboy bunny tank tops and ass shorts unsupervised at the Hollywood Connection cause teen sex. A sixteen-year-old girl with a fake ID and the body of a 25-year-old causes teen sex. A girl of any age who doesn't know that the answer to "If you love me, baby, you'll do it" is a swift kick to the nads causes teen sex. A seventeen-year-old guy with nothing better to do after school than troll the mall for chicks causes teen sex, and a guy who doesn't respect women enough to take "no" for an answer causes teen sex. A girl whose boyfriend is pressuring her for sex, but who doesn't feel comfortable talking to her mother about it? That causes teen sex, too.

Wingnuts love to complain about the government trying to run their lives, but they're quick to delegate child-rearing responsibility to anti-sex ed, anti-abortion and anti-birth control legislation. Here's my message to them: if you want to make kids, you should only do it if you're prepared to raise them. Poking holes in a kid's water wings and throwing him out in the deep end is no way to keep a kid from drowning; you have to teach him to swim. And then for God's sake, keep an eye on him to make sure he knows what he's doing. This isn't the kiddie pool of your youth; your kids are swimming in the wave pool at Six Flags, and whether they'll tell you or not, they're worried about whether or not they know how to handle it.

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