Johnny Townsend: Parents who believe in sexual purity should still vaccinate their kids against HPV

Can we so easily allow our fear of sexual sin to put the lives of our children at risk?

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Christopher Marroquin watches as Curtis Evans administers a Covid -19 vaccination to his sister, Genesis Marroquin, at Midvale Elementary School, on Wednesday, January 26, 2022.

With all the talk about COVID vaccinations, we forget that there are other useful vaccinations out there, too.

“My children don’t need to be vaccinated against HPV,” I’ve heard some of my Mormon friends and family say. “They’ll still be virgins when they get married. They’ll never have to worry about an STD.”

Apart from the vindictive “people get what they deserve” mentality of such a belief, the truth is that our kids don’t need to be sex addicts to become infected with one of 40 sexually transmitted human papillomaviruses that can lead to cervical, vaginal, anal, vulvar, oral, throat and penile cancer.

First, let’s establish some norms for this discussion: science is real, hormones are real, lapses in judgment are real.

If our son or daughter has a single momentary lapse, has sex just one time before marriage and then quickly and sincerely repents and never has sex again until marriage, do we not believe in forgiveness?

What if our son or daughter is still a virgin on their wedding day but they marry someone who isn’t? Maybe their spouse only had one lapse or perhaps they had several. But they’ve repented and they’re committed to sexual monogamy. Maybe our son or daughter doesn’t even know about their spouse’s past.

Let’s add a few other basic norms for this discussion: Some people lie convincingly, some people don’t consider omitting important information dishonest, some people are too ashamed to reveal parts of their past.

Are we still OK with our child getting cancer as a punishment for something they didn’t even do?

Another unpleasant reality is that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men will be sexually assaulted while in college. Rapes occur on religious campuses as well. Even at Brigham Young University.

I’ve heard some parents say that their child would fight to the death to avoid being raped, that no one is really raped without at least partially consenting. What I’ve never heard is the parent of a missing child say they hope their child has been murdered in addition to being raped.

Kids get overpowered and raped. Adults do, too. So do the elderly.

If our child has been traumatized by such a horrific event, do we really want to penalize them even further with the lifelong knowledge they might develop cancer later as a result? That they could infect their future husband or wife?

Aside from these scenarios, we should also recognize that our children may simply choose another path in life than we want for them. They may choose to have multiple sex partners. Do we truly want to see them die for their views on sexuality?

There’s a difference between “tough love” and “tough vindictiveness.” Perhaps we aren’t participating directly in “honor killings,” but are we guilty of honor manslaughter? Honor neglect?

What if all our children and their spouses are virgins when they marry and none of them are ever sexually assaulted? Are we then finally able to justify our refusal to vaccinate them?

Some marriages end in divorce, and we find ourselves dealing with the sexual history of the new partner, if there is to be one.

What if the marriage ended because our child’s spouse had an affair?

What if our children have wonderful, successful marriages in every way possible, but then their spouse dies in an accident or from cancer or some other illness?

We’re back to dealing with yet another partner’s sexual history again.

Not every infected person shows symptoms. Not every infected person develops cancer. Some just develop warts. Is that something we’re OK with inflicting on our loved ones, just because we can’t accept they’ll ever have sex, either consensually or non-consensually?

Some people are opposed to all vaccines. There’s no convincing those folks. But most of us are OK with vaccinating our kids against measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus and many other harmful viruses.

Can we so easily allow our fear of sexual sin to put the lives of our children at risk, when that risk can be greatly reduced with a simple vaccination?

If a physician must take an oath to “do no harm,” I hope that we as parents can make the same commitment to those sacred souls entrusted to our care.

Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend, Seattle, is the author of, among other works, “Am I My Planet’s Keeper?” “Racism by Proxy,” and “Queer Quilting.”