Family Magazine

Teens And The HPV Vaccine

By Joanigeltman @joanigeltman
Thank you Michael Douglas for putting front and center a public health issue everyone is too embarrassed to talk about. I was at an event last week right after this story came out, and everyone at the table was having fun with the freedom to now use the word cunnilingus in public! Even my spell check for my blog is too repressed to give me the correct spelling!
Ok, I know everyone is making faces, and wondering why I have to use that word and what does it have to do with your teenagers. Big reveal here: Teens have oral sex. A lot of it apparently, at least that's what teens talk about in their texts and tweets. Teens engage in oral sex because for some reason they don't think it's sex. Seems like a pretty intimate act to me.
It's mostly a one way street, girls performing oral sex on boys. Sometimes it's because she wants the boy to like her, and maybe become her boyfriend, so sh offers up the service. Sometimes she might  have been pressured by a boy to make good on a promise she made in a sext or tweet to him, and sometimes it's because she doesn't know how to say no and get herself out of an awkward situation, while saving face (literally and figuratively).
Regardless of the why, girls and boys are engaging in oral sex, and the HPV vaccine can protect these boys and girls from getting a the virus, and sharing it back and forth, or worse, throat cancer. Many years ago, when I still saw teens in therapy, I was shocked at how many of the teen girls I saw, who were engaging in sex, had cervical HPV. I spent hours listening to these girls worries and fears about their sexual and health futures after having to go for cervical procedures to treat the virus, and remove pre-cancerous cell. This was before the HPV vaccine had been developed. Oh how I wish these girls had that available to them.
Your teens will become sexually active at some point. Some earlier than later. Maybe your teen will be open and honest or maybe they won't, fearing your judgment and disappointment in them. Many of the parents I see for coaching are caught totally by surprise when they find out their teen is sexually active, usually by reading a facebook message left open on the computer, or texts read on their phone. It is shocking, no doubt about it, when you imagine that your teen is fooling around in ways that seem outrageous. Engaging in some sort of sexual activity with a boy/girlfriend may still be unwanted but not surprising. Finding out that your teen is just "hooking up" is something altogether different. Either way, it's gonna happen sometime, and better for your teen to be protected from a virus that could impact their future, seems smart.
The birds and the bees conversation has gotten WAY more complicated. Discussing intimate sexual acts with your teen is embarrassing and uncomfortable, but you gotta do it. No one, and certainly your kids expects that this will be an easy conversation to have. You can always start by saying: "I'm embarrassed and uncomfortable having this conversation with you, and I know you are too, but it's too important to avoid. I get at some point you are gonna be fooling around. It's hard for me to imagine, but that's my problem not yours. It's all supposed to happen, but I just want to make sure that you do it with safety."
If you haven't already agreed to get the vaccine for your teen, this would be a good time to explain what it is, why it's important that they get it. Just like they got a measles or mumps vaccine. It protects them from their present and their future. In no way are you saying, YAY go forth and fool around. You are acknowledging that at some point in their life they will be sexual active, and this will protect them for life.
The Boston Globe cited this statistic: only 2/3 of Massachusetts girls ages 13-17 have received one dose of the HPV virus and just 47% have received all three doses required to give full protection. For boys, the rates are lower.
As parents we are always wanting to protect and keep our kids safe. This is just another step in that direction.

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