Why My Son Got The HPV Vaccine

by Christine Burke
HPV vaccine
FangXiaNuo / iStock

I was thirteen when I got my first kiss. My beau was a year older and lived in my neighborhood. He’d sheepishly knock on my front door and ask if I’d like to take a walk in the afternoons after we’d gotten home from school. We’d slowly meander the quiet streets of our suburban neighborhood, hand in hand, while discussing the things thirteen-year-olds do. I remember it feeling clandestine, like I was getting away with something illicit, when, really our entire romance was based mostly on a mutual love of Def Leppard. Relationships have been built on less, right?

When, one Autumn day he stopped in the street and kissed me, our braces touching and his breath smelling of too much Binaca spray, I was surprised but I leaned in to the feel of his lips and the feeling of someone in my personal space. I liked that feeling of closeness and I wished that moment in the warm October sun would stop in time as his Drakkar Noir cologne hung in the air. I also wished I actually knew how to kiss.

While the age of thirteen was a lifetime ago for me, my son is living his version of thirteen now, and the reality of what is coming down the pike is settling in for me. Someday soon — maybe already? — he’ll have his first kiss. Like it or not, he’s going to start experimenting sexually and I have to face the facts: Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, are a real danger — and it’s my job as a parent to make sure he’s responsible for his own sexual safety and that of his future partners’.

That includes protecting our son from human papillomavirus or HPV. HPV is transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sexual activity and it is a known cause of cervical and throat cancers. Men can acquire HPV just as easily as women and they can spread it to multiple partners unknowingly. According to the Centers for Disease Control, HPV affects 79 million people, and 14 million people are infected annually. HPV puts men at a higher risk of infecting their partners, as well as increases the chance they will contract genital warts — an STD that affects 360,000 sexually active people a year.

HPV is very easily preventable with the advent of the new vaccines on the drug market. If I’m teaching my son to wear a condom, why wouldn’t I take it one step further and vaccinate him to prevent a known STD? Frankly, after I heard the statistics, I decided I’d rather have my son vaccinated with a quick round of three shots than watch him have to battle a sexually transmitted disease that is difficult to treat.

We also had our son vaccinated for HPV when he was twelve, because it’s the right thing to do in this modern age of sex.

From the time he was small, we’ve raised our son to be a gentleman. As an older brother to his sister, he’s learned, sometimes the hard way, respect and gentlemanly behavior towards women. He knows to open doors for girls, to stand up and pull out a chair when a lady comes to the table, and to bring flowers on a date. He knows how to buy a Valentine gift for someone special, and he knows that his actions and words are what show respect to girls.

If we are teaching him those values and fail to teach him to be respectful in the bedroom, we aren’t doing our jobs as his parents. Of course, we’ve had the “no means no” conversation and we’ve talked openly about sex acts when he’s had questions. To my friends’ horror and amusement, I’ve even gone so far as to tell him that if he has an orgasm, his partner better get one, too. I have told him “if he gets one, he gives one,” because orgasms aren’t a one way street and I’m not raising a greedy bastard in the bedroom, thank you very much.

If I am advocating that he makes sure his partner has an orgasm and speaking honestly with him about the feelings and emotions that come with sexual activity, I can also make sure he understands the risks of HPV. Being a gentleman goes far beyond bringing flowers and romancing a girl so he can get laid. Being a gentleman also means caring enough about his partner to help prevent cervical cancer by getting a simple vaccine. It just makes good sense all around.

Getting my son vaccinated for HPV is the very least I can do for the mothers of the girls with whom he may eventually have sex. I don’t know any mother who wouldn’t thank me for helping to prevent their child from getting cervical cancer. And I’d appreciate any parent that did the same for my son’s sexual safety. No one wants to lose his or her child to a preventable cancer.

Some have asked my husband and I if we gave our son a choice and, to be honest, we did not. We did, however, have a frank discussion with him about HPV, how it is spread and why the vaccine made good sense for him and his future partners. As we sat in the doctor’s office, his face blushed and he told me that he didn’t think he’d be having sex anytime soon. After I silently said a prayer of thanks, I smiled and told him that I understood. Kids really do grow up fast but, on that day, he was still my little boy.

As for my Def Leppard boyfriend and me, our relationship didn’t last long. He left me for a girl who had bigger ‘80s hair and a bigger love for Bon Jovi. That’s okay, though. I saved myself for a Jersey boy with blue eyes who kissed me by the beach better than I could have ever dreamed.