By Becky Bowers-Greene
I don’t know when it started exactly. It seems like it’s been a slow evolution over the past 20 years perhaps. But somewhere between my days as a child and my life now as a mother, television geared toward kids has moved from cartoons and after-school specials to commercials advertising vaccines for cervical cancer. I’m not being overly nostalgic; I know there have always been ads designed to lure our youth, but they have mostly consisted of Kool-Aid and Pop-Tart companies trying to persuade boys and girls to buy their sugary beverages and snacks.
Now as the era of pharmaceutical promotion sweeps our airwaves, we must endure a new publicity campaign targeting young people: shots for sexually transmitted diseases. Don’t be fooled, however; the drug industry knows how to market. You may have seen the ads on television, presented more like public service announcements than promotional spots, in which teen-age girls vow not to be another statistic of cervical cancer. The problem is, although the ads say the GARDASIL vaccine aims to prevent human papilloma virus (HPV), the primary cause of most cervical cancers, they don’t bother to mention HPV just happens to be an STD – sexually transmitted disease.
It’s bad enough that I have to watch couples (most of whom lack the traditional wedding rings on their fingers) talk matter-of-factly about the Herpes virus they no longer worry about transmitting to their partners thanks to the medical miracle known as VALTREX. But now I have to sit through “informative” commercials encouraging my daughters to get an anti-STD shot before they reach adolescence. What is more, Merck is currently pursuing avenues to make the drug available to boys … since HPV also causes genital warts, mouth cancers for those who engage in oral sex, and finally, anal cancer in gay men.
What a fabulous product.
In some states, it’s not just the marketing invading homes. Texas governor Rick Perry, a Republican who happens to have campaign and familial ties to the drug company Merck, bypassed legislative opposition in 2007 to approve a bill that mandates all school-age girls receive the so-called anti-cancer vaccine, preferably before their 12th birthdays. Many other states have followed suit. In other words, females must be immunized against HPV before they become sexually active. Fortunately, Arizona’s Senate has actually taken measures to prohibit compulsory vaccination against HPV by writing a budget bill with language that prevents the state from enacting such a law.
I cannot believe this is what our world has come to.
I consider myself an informed consumer. I read up on as much as I can before buying, and I certainly try to stay current on products that specifically concern my children. But my research is no longer just about determining what ingredients are in the foods I serve or what movies I feel are appropriate for my children to see. Instead I must be on guard even when entering the most innocent and presumably protective environments due to a cultural ideology that saturates every issue pertaining to how we view our children.
Before my first son was even born, the pediatrician’s office we selected scheduled his first inoculation – a hepatitis B shot to be administered when my son was 1 month old. Like most parents, I was prepared to trust the medical advice of an expert when it came to my child’s health. However, I had already done research on the immunizations recommended for children. Because my husband and I decided to approve or decline each vaccine on a case-by-case basis, I turned down the Hepatitis B shot. Although in rare cases one can contract the disease through other modes (such as a healthcare worker exposed to infected blood), I had learned Hepatitis B is a disease transmitted primarily through sex and intravenous drug use. Since my infant was not pursuing his medical degree yet, it was a safe bet that he – who couldn’t even roll over on his own – wouldn’t be engaging in the latter two activities either. The nurse advised us to reconsider our decision, citing that once he became a teen-ager, our son would be at “high risk” for contracting the disease and might be too headstrong to seek out the vaccine on his own.
Are you kidding me?
Thanks to the sexual revolution, our society has become more and more content with the idea that sex is not a sacred and willful act that belongs in the context of marital relationships. Instead, it is a right — a right of passage in fact — that no longer demands an attachment to moral arguments. It is a natural part of human… or should I say “animal” interaction; an activity so common, it is as much a part of growing up as getting your driver’s license or applying for college. It’s an assumption, not a decision, and our children are the ones most discredited in this assessment.
It is insulting to imply that it is not a matter of if a teenager will engage in sex but when, as if animal instinct overpowers intellectual and spiritual resolve. How ironic that the sexual revolution was considered such a liberation. How liberating is it to assume our children are held hostage to an impulse they will be unable to tame? How liberating is it that sex has become a war zone for which we should arm our young people with drugs, vaccines, birth control pills and condoms to keep them “safe” from the consequences of their inevitable actions? And just how liberating is this modern-day philosophy that turns its back on parental guidance, instead entrusting the interests of our children to whichever drug company lobbies hardest?
For my part at least, Merck will not be sitting at our dinner table.
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