Fight sex-negativity by tweeting that you’ve had HPV tomorrow

Courtney mentioned the “so-called Ayelet Waldman overshare” yesterday, but I think it deserves its own post because I agree so hard with Jill that this is why we are losing as a culture.

To recap: After Michele Bachmann made ridiculous and patently false claims about the HPV vaccine in an effort to score political points against Rick Perry, writer Ayelet Waldman, wife of novelist Michael Chabon, took to Twitter to say that she’d gotten HPV from her husband and remind all those sex-panicked conservatives why exactly the HPV vaccine is important. The news that a woman had HPV and is willing to say so on Twitter was somehow deemed news-worthy. And folks on Twitter responded with, in Jill’s summary, “OMG TMI BE A LADY YOU’RE BEING PUNISHED FOR BEING SUCH A SLUT SO BE QUIET ABOUT IT.”

I couldn’t dream up a better illustration of the amazing heights of sex-negativity in our culture. The ultra-conservative responses that basically claim that sex between “monogamous, faithful, virgins” is the only “moral” kind are, of course, outrageous. But that’s so totally out-of-touch with the vast majority of premarital-sex-having Americans, that they could be easily dismissed–if they didn’t exert such a powerful influence on the mainstream conservative movement these days. But it’s the less overtly judgmental but just as damaging exclamations of “TMI!” that are so revealing.

Because the only reason there’s any such reaction is that HPV is sexually transmitted. The. Only. Reason. The simple fact, implied there in a woman’s statement that she’s had HPV, that sex must have been had is enough to set off a chorus of “ewwws.” That is absurd. And it’s especially absurd considering that HPV is one of the most common viruses in the United States. At least 50% of sexually active people get it at some point. By the age of 50, at least 80% of women will have had HPV. In Amanda Marcotte’s words, “saying ‘I’ve had HPV’ is basically saying, ‘I’ve had sex.’ It’s that common.” It’s like the flu, but a flu you get from boning. Which is, of course, the whole problem. Because, apparently, we are a nation of 6th graders who think the abstract idea of two people having sex is too gross for Twitter. (And that comparison is insulting to 6th graders.)

There are very real consequences to that deep discomfort with talking openly about sex. As I’ve said before, sex-negativity is detrimental to your health. Which brings us back to the HPV vaccine – an issue that folks like Bachmann are able to exploit because the stigma around STDs means we don’t want to talk about it on a personal level. But we should. Because HPV is usually very benign, except when it isn’t – and then it can cause cervical cancer. In 2011, more than 12,000 women in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 4,000 are expected to die from it. That’s why, contrary to Michele Bachmann, getting the vaccine is a pretty good idea.

The Village Voice has declared tomorrow, Friday, September 16, “Tweet that You Have (or Had) HPV Day.” I think that’s a wonderful idea and I hope everyone will take part.

Update: The hashtag for tomorrow has been decided: #hpvday

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • Yashoda

    She may have had the best of intentions, but who would have caught that behind all the rudeness and cheap shots? It’s not the over-sharing that’s the problem, it’s that she violated someone else’s privacy.

    Women in this country need objective information about how you get it and what can happen if it goes untreated. But name-calling and saying that “Well I have HPV and cervical cancer and therefore I should have the loudest voice” doesn’t help anyone. It just tunes people out, and it makes them less receptive to the facts.

    A plea for sense in twitter communication:

  • Yashoda

    But back to the more important issue: HPV education.

    I was lucky enough not to get an abstinence-only education in the US, but even then, I wasn’t privy to half the information that the NHS gives ALL WOMEN in the UK. They actually send out regular mail to make sure women know how common the disease is, and how important it is to get checked up regularly.

  • liv79

    “…we are a nation of 6th graders who think the abstract idea of two people having sex is too gross for Twitter…” and yet it’s ok for people to have sex on TV every night of the week. I so do not understand how this county can be both so puritan and yet so addicted to shows like 2.5 Men and Jersey Shore where every episode is about getting laid. Real sex between real people is TMI, but real sex between tv personalities is super duper? Cognitive dissonance if you ask me.

  • Andrew

    Blogs like this have revealed so much about attitudes of Americans and how emotion and religious ideology often win over science and logic. I’m glad that I never was religious and never will be or else I would’ve bought deep into these slut shaming beliefs.

  • Teesa

    It’s great to promote the shot, but I think there’s a difference between not being ashamed of something and feeling the need to tell all your acquaintances about it.

  • Nicole Bergreen

    I understand what you are saying but as someone who had one of the “rare” side effects of the HPV vaccine I think more focus needs to be payed to the government mandating things that can potentially harm people. It needs to be parents decisions if and when their children receive this vaccine.

    Before getting vaccinated I worked full-time, went to school full-time, volunteered as an EMT, and raised my 2-year old nephew. As a result of the vaccine a developed a condition called dysautonomia. For the past 3 years I have been completely homebound and dependent on my girlfriend for everything from showers to bringing me food. I am unable to stand up without passing out and many days I am unable to even sit up. I have a port in my chest, will be getting a feeding tube, have to be taken to the doctors at least twice a week for infusions, and have spent at least a week of every month for the last 3 years in the hospital.

    This vaccine has completely ruined my life. The government needs to stay out of my bedroom, whether it is to tell me my relationship in invalid because I’m a lesbian or if it’s to “protect” me from HPV>

  • blueeyes90

    To quote the band Garbage:

    “Sex is not the enemy”

  • Alterant Oceanid

    It would also make it much easier to discuss with prospective sexual partners, many of whom (in my experience) don’t know much about it, don’t realize that even without a diagnosis they may have been exposed, or what it does and does not mean for their sexual health. I know due to prevalence, there is some conflict over if/when to disclose with a sexual partner- it would just be so much easier if people were more informed. AND if there were a test for half the population that was done routinely.