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Sometimes you stumble upon an image that says something you’re not entirely sure the author intended to convey. An AP article about Gardasil contained a photograph of a 14 year old girl, lounging in her mother’s arms. The text of the story spoke of how the two, well, the mother really, decided that the vaccine was in the girl’s immediate future. The image counterbalances the idea of the girl as a child, literally in her mother’s arms, while hinting at her sexual future: her legs are perfectly shaved, suggesting she has abandoned childhood innocence, her pose a common one in pornography. While a viewer can afford to admit that commonality, the photographer cannot. In a sense, it links Gardasil to the putative male viewer: the product is really for him, much like the girl’s gleaming legs

MSNBC / AP Article

The Left, HPV, and Cancer

By Richard Leader

Conservative men would rather their daughters die of cervical cancer than give them a vaccine that would allow them to make their own sexual choices in life. That’s the theory given by any number of liberal writers in the political debate over Merck’s Gardasil product. They very well might be correct.

What about men on the Left though? What would we prefer for women? All evidence seems to point to the fact that we really don’t care what kind of cancer they die from, so long as they keep putting out.

Women’s health has seldom been a priority for Western progressives. To see it take center stage with the introduction of Gardasil is several orders more miraculous than the invention of a vaccine itself. This attention, sudden as it is, is too surreal to be genuine.

The cervix has no monologues. It is perhaps the most alien part of female anatomy to men, and the least interesting; there is no part of it to conquer and rule, after all, although some form of pornography will undoubtedly find a way, given enough time. And yet, thanks to Gardasil, the cervix has taken center stage in public consciousness.

While liberal publications routinely backburner “women’s issues,” that wasn’t the case for Gardasil: suddenly, women’s health was able to compete for headlines with the war in Iraq. In many ways, however, this interest in women’s cervixes has everything to do with that war and the conflict it created between American men.

The Gardasil controversy — one of them, anyway, the jury is still out as to how safe and effective the vaccine is — merely happened at an opportune time. It was a way for liberal men to poke a bit of fun at their conservative peers at a moment when the Right was staggering between its own baser instincts of industry and religion. As corporate titans and religious fundamentalists can’t come to terms with Gardasil, it was a convenient wedge for the Left to drive.

In doing this, however, liberal men have effectively depoliticized the pharmaceutical industry in their own rhetoric: the argument is political, the drug and the people who created are an indifferent force of nature. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As far as misconceptions go, it’s a common one amongst Leftists who tend to see raw capitalism as dangerous, unless it’s sex that’s being sold. And Gardasil certainly represents sex and not health to the men of the Left.

Of course, women had their say about Gardasil, too. And if they wanted to say it in the publications of the male elite, they had to refrain from expressing any skepticism they might have over the dosing of an entire generation of women with an experimental drug. The favored feminists were forced to offer up their own daughters: the sexual freedom of girls is ever contingent upon them being freely available for the sexual requirements of men.

Such a statement need not be tied up in the quagmire of abstinence propaganda or even monogamy. What I am talking about is the idea of “compulsory heterosexuality,” the process with which society turns its daughters into products for male consumption.

Where was the male Left, when it came to cervixes, a decade ago? Where were we on HPV and cervical cancer before there was a “cure?”

That answer can, ironically, be found in Merck’s own commercials for Gardasil. They feature one nubile woman after another proclaiming that she had only just heard about HPV, how it can cause cancer, and how absolutely terrified she was for that one brief second before the pharmaceutical industry heroically came to her rescue.

This terror is new.

In the past 10 years, little seems to have been learned about HPV, at least when it comes to the basic information that can be transmitted to laypeople. An internet archive of a Planned Parenthood brochure dated from 1995 can be found online:


It offers the same basic fact that women now find scary: up to a third of all sexually active teenagers might be carriers of the virus; condoms may not always prevent transmission, if at all; almost all women with cervical cancer test positive for HPV.

That same information was unremarkable a decade ago. Women, if they were of means, were marshaled in for their pap smears. Cells were harvested. When needed, their bodies were burned, frozen, and cut. Women died with their families next to them. Women died alone. Their deaths were convenient: no man ever faced responsibility for passing on the fatal infection; any sex act was seen as a distant consideration, a silent memory buried in time.

Between the ever immediate emergency of pregnancy and the tail end of America’s full-on AIDS panic, a fear that still proved ineffective enough when it came to convincing men to use condoms, HPV seemed totally unremarkable to Generation X. Its three letters were not even worth committing to memory.

The threat of cervical cancer rarely informed anyone’s sexual decisions — if it did, it was surely last on a woman’s list of considerations.

Inflicting cervical cancer upon someone was never a consideration of men. HPV strains that did not burden a male with unsightly warts were deemed not worth testing for by the medical establishment; out of sight, out of mind. There were no marches. Penises were never called “the original cancer sticks.” No man ever curtailed his sexual behavior on account of it, admitting that even condoms not might prevent its transmission.

And yet that same generation of Leftist men, cure in hand, now accuses religious fundamentalists of murderous indifference.

It is only now that women can be saved — and pockets can be lined — that women are allowed to fear HPV and the very worst of its effects. Indeed, they are even encouraged to fear it. Before, it was merely part of heterosexual life for women, an uncommon yet ordinary consequence of all we ordained as “natural.” Bad luck, or the Will of God, cancer was seen as outside the domain of male control.

Only cervical cancer wasn’t: ironically, cloistered nuns were the living proof, as they were uniquely immune to the affliction. Now men are taking credit for conjuring a cure without ever taking responsibility for engineering the proliferation of the disease.

Again, I must point out that I’m not proposing abstinence or monogamy as a solution. Nor am I saying that women lack the interest, the will, or the right to engage in any sexual activity that they desire, fully cognizant of the risks.

However, prior to the marketing of Gardasil, public knowledge of HPV was limited at best. It was defined solely in terms of disfiguring warts. The direct connection to cancer was undermined by a generally defeatist notion about cancer and its inevitability in modern life. The specific and accurate information surrounding HPV was lost in a sea of myth. Public sentiment distrusted a scientific community, which, according to conservative lore, said something was good for you one week and bad the next. That phenomenon was exacerbated by fundamentalists preaching of a nonexistent connection between abortion and breast cancer, disease ever being a punishment for “bad behavior.”

When HPV was discussed, it was typically with women in their private sessions with gynecologists, if they could afford them, not in public as part of sexual education services. Such education is a task that Leftist women have been thanklessly charged with carrying out. While many of their efforts have been inspired by feminism, and continue to be so, the money required to engage in them is often at the discretion of their male peers. They control not only the purse strings of their own significant wealth but the insider-circuit of progressive fundraising.

If Planned Parenthood, prior to the advent of Gardasil, ever described cervical cancer as a frequent result of sex with men, that condoms were no panacea, and advised women to act in accordance with that knowledge, it seems certain that Planned Parenthood would not be around today. This would be especially true if they had treated HPV and cervical cancer with the same caustic urgency that liberal pundits expect it to be spoken of today, post-Gardasil.

Leftist men would have swiftly killed an organization that has survived the pipe bombs of the Right. We require Planned Parenthood to promote compulsory heterosexuality.

Gardasil has given men free reign to focus on a pharmaceutical future. That utopian vision, a narrow one at that, allows men the privilege of bucking responsibility for HPV transmission in both the past and present, where adults of both sexes certainly continue to be infected and re-infected with strains of HPV. Indeed, everyone over the age of 21 is considered a lost cause without remedy: we’re all supposed to resign ourselves to contracting HPV at some point in our lives unless we decide to remove ourselves entirely from sexual culture.

It never had to be that way. Most sexually transmitted diseases could be greatly reduced in prevalence within the course of a few generations — and without medical intervention. This wouldn’t require monogamy, abstinence until marriage, but for something completely new: men treating women as their equals. Should that vision ever be achieved, it seems likely that young girls would no longer be held as fetish objects by older men. A study of teenage-pregnancy by the Alan Guttmacher Institute revealed that two-thirds of such girls are impregnated by men who are at least 20; the younger the girl is, the older her male “partner” tends to be.

Yes, these situations are especially egregious, but the same dynamic is represented in every other form of patriarchal sexuality — both heterosexual and homosexual — that believes that dominance is the most exciting aspect of sex. As long as men’s relationships with women keep skewing younger, if only slightly in most cases (the U.S. Census Bureau’s reporting of the “median age of first marriage” shows a difference of just under two years, 26.9 for males, 25.3 for females), it seems likely that sexually transmitted diseases will spread much more quickly than they would otherwise. The younger people are when they contract HPV, the more opportunities they have to pass it on to others.

Men are fairly adept at pretending women are their equals: not only does the church recommend marriage as a protection against exploitation, as if it were never an issue of “frying-pan to fire,” liberal men insist that their own self-professed “immaturity” makes them the peers of younger women who are anything but. Men, across the political spectrum, have engineered a sexual world that’s designed to pass on infectious diseases as rapidly as possible, ever looking at new generations to exploit.

While this is done with no shortage of dedicated malevolence (how many men could not stop themselves from joking about what abuses they might perpetrate when the “Olsen Twins” turned 18?), it is always explained in the dispassionate terms of Darwinism; men spreading their seed in the greenest of pastures.

Again, I’m not recommending abstinence or monogamy, or even that people shouldn’t be free to form relationships with adults of all ages, only that the general pattern of men fetishizing younger women (while too often abandoning elderly women to die alone in poverty) leads to a culture where rape, incest, and prostitution run rampant. It’s especially racist for Westerners to view reports — some real, many assuredly not — of African men infecting virgin girls, even infants, with HIV as both unprecedentedly vile and absurd, when our own culture operates in similar ways. Again, it’s called compulsory heterosexuality.

Even progressives lack a compassionate voice when it comes to sexual politics. A recent study at Johns Hopkins suggest that HPV transmission through oral sex can lead to dramatically increased risks of throat cancer, perhaps at incidences of up to 32 times, making other risk factors such as smoking virtually negligible by comparison.


Responses to this news were varied.

Some found dark humor in it, noting that the risks ensued at even five partners over the course of a lifetime were so astronomical that they might as well throw caution to the wind. Others believed that the reporting was overstating the danger as throat cancer is still relatively rare compared to other cancers.

Some straight women found odd relief in that the report said cunnilingus was also a mode of transmission, glad that men might, for once, share equally in the risk as well. However, it seems difficult for a non professional to tease that information out of the data supplied and it often seems that press releases slant in the direction of mutuality only when none exists. Many lesbians believe that their own sexual risks are dramatically inflated by studies for political reasons. They theorize that not only are such warnings designed to discourage women from pursuing such relationships, but for internal “queer” reasons as well, supposing that lesbians will contribute more to the well being of gay men if they identify with facing the exact same risks.

Some men, particularly in feminist arenas, complained that there is no standardized screening test for them, nor do they currently have access to Gardasil, preventing them from protecting their sexual partners.

What went unmentioned, however, was pornography. There, Deep Throat has transformed from a once exotic activity to a simple stage in a sequence of events — first as an innocuous, almost forgettable “vanilla” act and then once again in an Ass-to-Mouth climax. From the perspective of the filmmakers, the two instances of “fellatio” couldn’t be more different. Each fits into precise spectrum of activities designed to create a crescendo of humiliation.

While the pornographic industry prides itself in the sexual health of its workers, bragging of constant testing, condom use is still limited even in so-called mainstream productions. Yet the profit margins are in the use of subcontractors to generate content; companies inside of companies that manage stables instead of “stars.” When condoms are used, they are only for intercourse: oral sex is deemed an acceptable risk by management.

There is currently no standard way to test males for HPV and condoms may not always prevent transmission.

Defenders of pornography speak of agency and safety. Even if one believes that all performers, in both gay and heterosexual porn, have full agency to give informed consent to each and every sex act they’re required to perform, the cancer risks associated with HPV make that sterling guarantee of safety an impossibility. That would remain true even if condoms were in universal use.

Even so, apologists for the sex industry could argue that watching, as entertainment, someone potentially contract a disease that leads to cancer is no different than viewing a film where people smoke, perform motorcycle stunts, or even risk injury in traditional sports. I would disagree with that assessment in many respects, but that disagreement is not relevant to the argument I am making here:

The liberal panic over HPV and cervical cancer exists only in terms of how liberals relate to their conservative peers. Outside of that conflict, HPV isn’t on the Leftist agenda at all.

The Left, especially the men of the Left, have had ample time to consider public policy for both HPV and cervical cancer. Ironically, it was not the disease that became the emergency but the “cure.” While liberal pundits were willing to work overtime for Merck and their advertising department, historically, that same interest in women’s health was nowhere to be found.

Before cervical cancer became a commodity — not just in the sense of the existence of Gardasil, but as a chit to be traded back and forth between political parties — it was a non issue. The lack of public awareness concerning HPV before the recent bout of publicity, and the now deliberate fear mongering, is testament to that fact. As is the lack of concern for the women in the sex industry who are most at risk; they go unnoticed while America and other Western nations fret over the most precious of their daughters.

Yet it is their sons who should be cause for concern. Yes, they should be tested for HPV too. And yes, perhaps the vaccine could be administered to boys en masse as well. But more than that, men need to be cognizant of the reality that male power has crafted. A sexual culture of predation, where deceit is encouraged and exploitation celebrated, has shaped HPV into something akin to a man-made disease. A vaccine might treat one symptom but it will take far more than Gardasil to cure it.


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