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On a recent episode of Friday Night Lights, mother Tami Taylor tries to talk her 15-year-old daughter out of having sex with her boyfriend.

The second thing that pops out of her mouth is a warning about the diseases that can be contracted during sex. The first thing is a warning about pregnancy, which is often treated by our culture as if it, too, were a disease.

Such is our culture's knee-jerk fear when it comes to sex. We are not primarily worried about emotional entanglements or personal integrity or dishonoring God. Just disease. Thus, our culture's fevered talk about "protection" and the desperate search for gadgets and vaccines that will make sex "safe."

From this point of view, the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) is a stride forward.

Opting Out

HPV, which causes genital warts, afflicts more than 6 million Americans annually (half of them between 15 and 25 years of age) and can only be spread through sexual contact. A total of about 20 million Americans are infected. People without symptoms can pass on the infection to unsuspecting partners, and condoms provide little defense.

Worse, several strains of HPV can lead to cervical cancer years later, as well as to other serious conditions in both men and women. According to the American Cancer Society, about 9,700 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually, and 3,700 of them will die from the disease.

Last June, the Centers for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended that all girls 11 and 12 years old receive Gardasil, a new vaccine against only four of the one hundred or so strains of HPV. These four strains are associated with 70 percent of the cases of cervical cancer. In October, the ACIP added Gardasil, ...

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In the Magazine

April 2007

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