“Oh my god I think I am going to cry!”
“Did you hear, she got to go home early because she got really sick from it.”
“I heard that they are injecting mind control bacteria into you.”
“It’s probably not all that bad.”
This and much more are some of the things I heard leading up to and on the day of the HPV injection in school. There was a buzz about it. You got to miss part of class, which was great, but you were also getting this magic/scary injection that will protect you from something that you probably wouldn’t even get. Right?
Here are some statistics on cervical cancer that you may or may not know:
- Approximately 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year
- Around 800 of those women may die, that’s over 25%
- It’s the most common cancer for women under 35 years of age
- Those taking hormonal contraception for 5 or more years are at a higher risk of getting cervical cancer
Some girls chose to put on a brave face and tell everyone not to be silly, others chose to completely freak out and downright refuse the injection without numbing cream and I was somewhere in the middle. However, I, unfortunately, didn’t get the injection. My mother didn’t trust the school or really understand what is was for and therefore wanted me to get it somewhere else… We didn’t get around to it.
13-year-old me didn’t see the big deal. 13-year-old me didn’t have access to the wealth of information I have now. 13-year-old me couldn’t find the words to describe the importance of this to herself or a mother whose English isn’t her first language.
The HPV injection at school is another missed opportunity to educate young girls and parents on sexual health for young women.
There wasn’t much information out there, just a pamphlet and a letter to take home. If someone had sat me down and explained to me what this meant in a wider sense of my sexual health and sexual future, and answered some (I thought silly at the time) questions I had about my reproductive organs I wouldn’t be where I am now. At almost 20, taking birth control for over 4 years, and worrying about my cervical cancer chances with still many unanswered questions. Perhaps if it had been explained my mother and the she had been told how important it was for her daughter to get this injection (as an immigrant she didn’t have access to HPV injection either) she might have changed her mind.
Schools need to do a better job of educating young women on their sexual organs. They need to teach:
- Different types of birth control and their side effects (not just what they scientifically do to the body but experiences of different women).
- Educating girls about their vulvas, labiaplasty is one of the fastest growing plastics surgery procedures for young women. Schools should be talking to young girls and boys about the facts. For example, vulvas vary and discussions around what a healthy vulva looks like. This would decrease the shame a lot of girls feel towards their genitals, empowering them to feel comfortable and have control of their bodies.
- Open a dialogue. Hanx is doing so by being unapologetic about female empowerment. School can do the same by not making ‘sex’ such a taboo subject.
- There will be girls that are bisexual- we should make conversations inclusive of
- Encourage exploration, curiosity and questions. The only way to know and understand a topic is to ask questions, look and understand it. This should be encouraged so girls know what is normal for them.
- TEACH GIRLS ABOUT PLEASURE, sensuality, touch, words and foreplay are all part of sex. Sex education right now focuses too much on negativity, infections and unwanted pregnancy. What about pleasure?
- Losing your virginity doesn’t mean you are tarnished forever. Virginity is different for everybody, it doesn’t have to be a loss, it can be a beginning of a beautiful journey. It is all about how you frame it.
There are many more things that can be done but whoever is reading this, if you have a young girl in your life let her know she can come to you, there is a safe space to talk and ask questions, there are no stupid questions. Sex education isn’t just about protection (although that is very important) it encompasses all aspects of life and should be looked at in that way.
And for any girls in my situation, my advice to you is to make sure as soon as you’re 25, get regular cervical smears. So even if you do have HPV or cervical cancer changes, you can catch it early.