Does the Cervical Cancer Jab make girls more promiscuous?

There were a couple of news items yesterday that had the secularists up in arms.  One was The British Humanist Association (BHA) complaining about proposed ‘Creationist’ Free schools getting approval from the Department for Education.  The BHA has subsequently been criticised for making wild accusations from very little evidence.  In response Christian blogger The Church Mouse wrote a piece on his site to attempt to bring some clarity to this story, which was then in turn picked up and published in the Guardian.

The second story was on faith schools refusing to give their female pupils a potentially life-saving cervical cancer jab at their schools on religious grounds.  This is part of The Guardian’s article on it:

‘Some schools in England have opted out of the HPV vaccination programme because their pupils follow strict Christian principles and do not have sex outside marriage. The jab guards against two strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) virus – 16 and 18 – which cause 70% of cases of cervical cancer. It is offered routinely to girls aged 12 to 13.

‘But an investigation by GP magazine found  24 schools in 83 of England’s 152 primary care trust (PCT) areas were opting out of the vaccination programme, many of them on religious grounds.

‘The magazine found the majority of  schools opting out did not tell their local GPs, where the girls could be offered the vaccine.

‘Just two of the 15 PCTs where schools are denying the vaccination course told GPs of their decision.

‘Only five of the 15 PCTs said they informed pupils or guardians how to obtain the vaccine elsewhere, the figures show.’

This programme has been running nationally since 2008 and is carried out predominantly through schools, but is also available through GPs.  Worldwide, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in adults and can lead to genital warts as well as cervical cancer.

For once I’m inclined to agree with those secularists who have been criticising this news, although we mustn’t lose sight of the fact it was only 24 schools in just over half of the country.  We’re only talking about a small handful nationwide.

Schools have every right to opt out of this programme, but I find their reasons hard to justify.  Some of these reasons included, “not in keeping with the school ethos”, “pupils follow strict Christian principles, marry within their own community and do not practise sex outside marriage” and “the school does not want parents/students to feel pressured by peers or the school setting”.

Are these good enough reasons to deny pupils this vaccine?  I asked the question in the title as to whether having this jab will make girls more promiscuous and I think this lies at the heart of why some schools are steering clear of it.  If you go through life with one sexual partner who was previously a virgin then you will never get this virus.  I expect that is what these schools are teaching their pupils; to save themselves for marriage.

I fully subscribe to the view that sex ideally should only happen within the context of marriage.  This is the best place for it, but I also know as we all do that for most people this isn’t the case.  What the schools are in effect saying is that they expect their pupils to be virgins when they get married and they also expect them to only marry a virgin.  That’s a big ask.

If the pupils think it will be ok for them to sleep around once they’ve been vaccinated, then they’ve been horribly ill-informed because it won’t protect them from other sexually transmitted diseases and it won’t stop them getting pregnant.  Having seen some of my own students go through the vaccination programme, with all the literature they are given it would be virtually impossible for them to come to this conclusion.

However the most shocking aspect of this piece of news is the number of primary care trusts (PCTs) who have not informed parents or GPs of the schools’ decisions not to offer the vaccination.  This leaves the parents and the girls in the dark meaning some won’t even know that it is available.  This is a huge failure on the part of the PCTs.

It is deeply saddening that some schools’ expectations of their pupils future sexual behaviour is so fixed and uncompromising that they are willing to deny them something that could keep them alive if they have been raped or if they marry someone who had a foolish teenage one night stand.  Doesn’t this just demonstrate that the leaders of a small number of schools are completely out of touch with reality and would rather bury their heads in the sand and ignore the issue?  By trying to uphold Christian values they place a heavy burden on their pupils that plenty of their staff have probably failed to hold on to.

Even after all of this, if a school is unable to bring itself to offering the vaccinations, then it absolutely becomes their duty to make sure that parents and pupils are fully informed as to how they can access it from their GP.  I cannot imagine a situation where it would be excusable not to.  If they don’t do this what they are effectively saying that if you do contract the virus then it’s your own fault and if it develops into cancer then that’s just tough even though it could have been prevented.

I’m really not convinced that this is what the Christian message is all about.

Update 20/07/2012

The think tank Theos have now obtained information from GP Magazine on the 24 schools that opted out through a Freedom of Information request.  It shows that ‘only 9 of the 24 schools where the jabs had not been given were listed as religious schools. Of these, only two schools said that it was school policy not to give the jabs and that this was specifically for religious reasons. Both schools have less than 10 pupils.’ (full data)

Director of Theos, Elizabeth Hunter has written a thorough piece backing up my observation that this only affects a tiny number of pupils nationally.  The numbers are even smaller than I had anticipated, which actually shows that overwhelmingly schools are doing the right thing for their pupils in offering the jab.

However, I don’t think these small numbers negate the need to discuss this matter.  What I didn’t talk about originally is how many parents are discouraging or stopping their children from having the jab for religious or other reasons.  Hopefully these numbers too are equally as small, but if any parent is doing this, the arguments still remain valid.

We should rightly have high expectations of how our children will conduct themselves as they grow up.  We should want the best for them and that includes in their relationships.  I want my children to save themselves for marriage and I’m teaching them about the importatnce of it as they grow up, but  I also know I can’t control their lives forever and none of us know what the future may bring.  That’s why I don’t have any problems with this jab and fortunately by the look of it most other people don’t too.



Categories: Children & families, Education, Sex & pornography

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14 replies

  1. A couple of observations: language like ‘deny them’ rather begs the question. If schools feel that a school is not the right place for this campaign, I don’t think that is denying anyone anything. The GP is probably the appropriate place.

    But on the bigger question, I think it would be hard to claim that the ‘jab makes girls more promiscuous.’ But again it is the way you phrase the proposition: ‘make’ is a strong word.

    The reasons I object to this campaign are several:

    One is that it was done surreptitiously, at least at our girls’ school; a second is that when information was forthcoming, it was inaccurate propaganda; but the biggest is that it contributes to a culture in which it is assumed that teenagers will sleep around. Does that ‘make’ them do so? Probably not. Does it increase the likelihood that more will? Probably.

    • If it was just offered at GPs the take-up would be much lower. We’ve seen that with the MMR jab. Also if schools feel the need, there’s nothing stopping them providing some education on the subject.

      I would like to see some research on whether having the jabs does alter girls’ views of having sex, but I sincerely doubt that would be the case. The pupils I’ve seen have just treated it like having a tetanus jab or their BCG.

      • Research on what has contributed to current rates of promiscuity (often later regretted) would be interesting indeed. I suspect one factor would indeed be the changed cultural environment: the normalisation of, and non-judgemental approach to, what was historically a far smaller number of promiscuous teenagers. It is in that context that I question the wisdom of this targetting of 13 year old girls at school.

        • According to GSK who make the Cervarix vaccine, it is most effecive when administered to girls aged 9 to 14, which is the main reason it is given to girls who are 12 and 13 in schools. According to a GP I know it was deemed to be better to administer it at that age rather than at 9 years old as they will have a better understanding of the reason it is given.

  2. Cervical cancer makes women dead. It is stoppable. To not have this vaccine available with others is just plain wrong. Kids have always, and will always be kids. Frankly, adults will be adults too. Why should a wife pay for her husband’ affair with her death? Maybe extreme cases make bad examples, but right now I am feeling quite extreme…

    • I agree with you Tracy, but despite everything I’ve said we’re only talking about a very small number of schools. Most have seen the sense in offering the jab.

    • I’ve a great idea. Let’s run education campaigns teaching teenage boys always to wear crash helmets when they race each other, drink-drive etc. it would demonstrably save lives amongst this high-risk group; and boys will be boys… And to do so would obviously not ‘make’ them drive irresponsibly (though I admit Ihave no research data for that assertion).

      Think that’s a bad idea? Well, then…

      • The issue is that it others are hurt from people having multiple sexual partners. This because it can be spread to people with one sexual partner. The equivalent to your example would be every driver having a reasonably successful safety feature installed like um… Seatbelts.

      • I think you’ll find most people here don’t want teenagers being promiscuous, but we have to face the reality of the world we live in even if we’re seking to see it change. I thikn teenagers are far more likely to have sex because they see it on TV, read about it or because their friends are doing it than because they’ve had a jab.

  3. I think there is a difference between thinking the vaccine is ‘a good thing’ and thinking that promoting it as a universal, near mandatory treatment, in schools, dishonestly, to 13 year old girls, without parental knowledge (let alone consent) is a good thing…

  4. Exactly how many schools have opted out for religious reasons? The original GP data set shows just 24 schools opted out in total, but does not say how many were for “religious” reasons.

    • We’re talking about 24 schools in just over half of the country. Of those “many” opted out on religious grounds according to the Press Association. So really we’re talking about a very small number of schools. I did try and point this out in my piece. It’s not a major national issue, but as always with these things it only takes one or two cases to get secularists excited. Maybe I should have focused more on this, however I do wonder why if the vast majority of schools are running this programme, a tiny handful think that it’s not appropriate. It ‘s definitely not like we’re saying that all Catholic schools are opting out for example.

  5. It would make sense to offer it if indeed it is most effective when given at that age. I doubt that teenagers are likely to be more promiscuous as a result of this vaccine, at 12/13 the majority will not make the link and probably forget about it quite soon afterwards if they do. The increasing sexualisation in society /culture (shades of grey ) including children within the media and peer group pressure are probably much bigger factors. Anything to help save lives though must be sensible but parents should be fully informed of what is happening. With regard to the creationism in schools debate the B.H.A. like to polarise this issue not least by lumping intelligent design theory in with creationism. The creation should be taught in R.E. and Evolution and Intelligent design theory in science. neither can be proved fully using verifiable methods and the relative merits should be discussed so that children can make up their own minds. Political humanists dislike Intelligent design theory because they see it as creationism through the back door. One wouldn’t mind but Darwinism is hardly water tight is it. If they were honest its really about removing religion from the school curriculum rather than letting children explore the possibilities.

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