Mishegas, Sex & Gender

Sex and disease and, um, sex education

I’m going to roll in several topics together here, because there’s been a chain of news that got me thinking about all this.
First, there was the recent announcement that a vaccine to prevent Human Papilloma Virus in humans has been discovered. Recommendations are for women and girls to receive the vaccine:

A government advisory committee agreed a month ago to recommend the vaccine for girls aged 11 and 12, girls and women aged 13 to 26 who have not yet received the vaccine and women who have had abnormal pap smears, genital warts or certain other conditions.
Dr. Bradley Monk, associate professor in gynecologic oncology at the University of California at Irvine, said the best use of the vaccine would include giving it to girls and boys and all women and men, regardless of their individual risk factors.
“We need to move toward a paradigm where this is a universal vaccine,” he said in a commentary published in the latest issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
But some groups oppose requiring the shots for school attendance, saying parents should decide whether to immunize their children against a sexually transmitted virus.
Men can pass on the virus to their sexual partners, so it makes sense to vaccinate boys against HPV, and it would also protect them from genital warts, Monk said.”

Unfortunately, as seems to be usual, the right has decided that it’s much better for girls to die of cancer than to get the vaccine, since the disease is sexually transmitted, and giving them a vaccine, according to these loons, will encourage sexual engagement, rather than forcing them to wait until marriage. Apparently they haven’t noticed that 1. they’re already having sex, even without the vaccine, as of now, and 2. the government has a responsibility to protect its citizens, and a vaccine could help prevent the spread of the virus, thus saving many lives, including those who have waited until marriage, but whose partners have not (a vector of AIDS among heterosexuals, has been in many places, men with multiple partners whose wives either didn’t know, or couldn’t do anything about it because of cultural or legal barriers).
According to newscientist.com:

DEATHS from cervical cancer could jump fourfold to a million a year by 2050, mainly in developing countries. This could be prevented by soon-to-be-approved vaccines against the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer – but there are signs that opposition to the vaccines might lead to many preventable deaths.
The trouble is that the human papilloma virus (HPV) is sexually transmitted. So to prevent infection, girls will have to be vaccinated before they become sexually active, which could be a problem in many countries.
In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. “Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV,” says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.”

More evidence of human stupidity in full article here.
But that’s not all.
SO just in case anyone actually doubts that teenageers have sex, here’s the latest:

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Infections with the virus that causes genital herpes are common among teen girls, a new study shows.
While none of the young women in the study had oral or genital herpes symptoms, some of those who tested positive for the virus were shedding it in their vaginal area, meaning it would be possible for them to transmit the infection to others, Dr. Kenneth H. Fife of the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis and colleagues report….
They conclude, ‘HSV infections are common in adolescent women.’ They point out that efforts to reduce these infections ‘need to target children before adolescence.’

SO, if you weren’t paying attention, that means that HPV vaccinations aren’t going to be enough, although they certainly would be a step in the right direction. I don’t know if that means that I completely agree with the call from Rabbi Arthur Waskow saying that as part of bat mitzvah, girls should be required to either have the vaccination or at least have the sexuality discussion, but I do agree with him that the discussion ought to be mandated as part of a religious school or day school curriculum – to all children prior to the age of physical maturity – i.e. the discussion should happen at 11 for girls, and it would be nice to have it with boys then, too, but at least by the end of age 12.
R. Waskow says (couldn’t find a link on the Shalom center site with this project, I am quoting from a mail sent out from the Shalom Center),
“Celebrations of becoming bat mitzvah happen typically at age 12 or 13. We urge that synagogues require that bat mitzvah preparation include a focused discussion and decision by the girl and her family whether to be vaccinated against the Papilloma virus. (For some churches where there is a tradition of baptism or confirmation for adolescents, similar considerations might apply.)
The virus is sexually transmitted. So — although cervical cancer is limited, of course, to women — males pass on the virus and do suffer from genital warts and, rarely, penile cancer. It is distressing that the vaccine has not yet been formally tested on males; but most medical authorities think it is likely to make sense to vaccinate boys as well. When that is determined to be safe (or now, if family physicians think it responsible), boys should also be required to take part in a focused discussion and decision, as part of their bar-mitzvah preparation.
Taking these steps would mean that as an act of pekuach nefesh — saving life, the highest commandment of all in Jewish teaching — our synagogues and families consciously and explicitly recognize the onset of sexual maturity around this age. Some might argue that in order to safeguard life, the vaccination should be required. We recommend that the discussion be required, and as part of the onset of mature responsibility, the child entering puberty should be free to choose whether to be vaccinated.
…Would taking these steps mean that our synagogues and families affirm that sexual intercourse at 12 or 13 is physically, emotionally, or spiritually desirable? No. But it does mean taking note that some studies show the average age of first intercourse for American girls is 15. It does mean that every synagogue’s course of study toward bar / bat mitzvah celebration should include not only learning about the sexual “plumbing” — how our bodies operate sexually, both for joy and in danger — but also sexual ethics and the role of sexuality in spirituality.
And above all, it does mean deciding that the lives and health of our children are more sacred than taboos about discussing sex. ”
As a rabbi, I’m in complete agreement about having a required class on sexuality and the Jewish views on it required for pre-teens. In fact, I would suggest that such a class could be a part of a regular ongoing curriculum that lasts for several years, each year including more material that would be age appropriate as the children grow. I realize that in synagogues this is a touchy subject for a lot of reasons: not the least of which is the limited time that after-school religious teaching prorgams have to lend to any given topic, but in my opinion, this is an excellent opportunity for kids to learn a variety of other subjects in addition, including: an introduction to various Jewish text sources, the difference between Jewish views and political views on any subject, how to make good ethical decisions, especially in matters that deal with more than one person, what is a Jewish family, what is btzelem elohim and kavod habriot and how do those play out in all the aspects of ourlives and dealings with others, and of course, how do we make decisions about what to do Jewishly, when we are living in a way that is perhaps not entirely in sync with the highest ideals of Judaism (i.e. ok, Judaism is pretty explicit that we should marry and beget, in that order. How then, do we make decisions when we know that’s not going to be how it is – is there a way to still remain faithful to the tradition? Is there a halachic second best?) I’m sure we could all come up with lists of interesting questions to deal with, level by level, for such an ongoing class.

8 thoughts on “Sex and disease and, um, sex education

  1. Is this Waskow the same hippy who justifies gay Jews? (See my the latest essay on my blog.) I agree with what he’s saying, but I fundamentally disagree with his principle. If we can save more people from horrible disease, then why not do it? Why should people be put in danger to further a cause which people don’t even hold of anyone?

  2. First, what does this have to do with gay Jews?
    Second, so what if he does?
    The guy never claimed to be HalachaMan(TM), and even if he did, there’s ample room in the tradition for justifying treating all human beings decently, no matter what your take on the halacha of the matter.
    Third, don’t you think “hippy” is a little dismissive? If you don’t agree with him about everything, that’s fine (I don’t care for the lack of halachic outlook in his writing myself) but that’s no reason to be ad hominem. Deal with the issue at hand, please.

  3. This has nothing to do with gay Jews, I was just pointing out that usually I would disagree with this Waskow fellow because of his extreme liberal opinions (such as allowing gay marriage). Calling him a hippy is not an ad hominen attack, it’s an acurate description of a guy whose middle name is “Ocean.” I know somebody (a former liberal Jew) who knew this man. Regarding homosexuality, the halacha is clear as day, there is no justification. See my essay over here: http://rchaimqoton.blogspot.com/2006/01/abominable-relations.html

  4. How did this become a discussion about Arthur Waskow’s status as a halachic Jew, whether he’s a hippy or not, or what halacha says about homosexuality?
    The issue at hand here is the current HPV vaccine and the controversy over how and when it should be used. I think Waskow’s idea is interesting, and I think it gets right at the issue that seems to be irking conservatives (and whoever else) about this HPV vaccine: are we encouraging young women to have sex if they know they are safe from HPV and cervical cancer? Coupled with comprehensive sex education, definitely not: the HPV vaccine will not prevent you from getting herpes, HIV, or any other STI, nor will it protect you from getting pregnant. Does our “encouraging” them or berating them actually matter? News flash: teenagers will have sex, whether you like it or not, whether you encourage safe sex or not. Why does this issue not signal a need for more comprehensive sex ed, instead of automatically restricting teen sex?

  5. I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again-POPULATION CONTROL. and no I am not talking conspiracy theories, but come on….AIDS, Cancer, do you really think we don’t have cures for these already? Of course we do. But then what would we do without thousands people dying everyday? And all the money the pharmaceutical companies make. I hear Magic Johnson is down to only one AID, though. That’s good news.

  6. Hmm.
    1) “hippy” = “having pleasantly curvy (or excessively large) hips”; “hippie” is the noun. Hate to nitpick, but mispeling drves me nutz.
    2) Yeah. Vaccinations encourage fornication, just like NORAD encourages people to bomb us. Geniuses, really.
    3) You can eschew conspiracy theories all you like (NERD JOKE! — and with Mel’s actions these days, who can blame you? — NERD JOKE!), but yes, you are talking about one there. If we had a cure for AIDS, cancer, etc., you can bet the drug companies would put ’em on the market. Think about it — you’re 35, and you’ll die in 5 years of whatever it is you’ve got. 5 years of treatments, let’s say it runs you 700k. So they just make you pay a couple mil for a cure, knowing that you’ll live another 40 years at least. That gives you plenty of time to develop a new condition that they can charge you a couple mil to cure.

  7. Gee, there’s a lot of folks who “justify gay Jews.” If that makes one a hippy, then ich bin ein hippy, I suppose.
    I don’t believe that the pharmaceutical companies have cures for AIDS and cancer that they’re hiding. I DO believe that while there’s a lot of money put toward finding cures, there could certainly be more. A good chunk of pharma money goes toward advertising, and a good amount of pharma research money goes toward anti-depressants for dogs and other such things that aren’t nearly as pressing as treatments for diseases that, on a global scale, largely effect the poorest, like AIDS and malaria. The pharmaceutical industry is for-profit, and they’re trying to make as much money as they can–which can tilt toward developing drugs for well-heeled private consumers than for poor people who will obtain drugs through governmental or NGO programs if at all. And then you add to that the amount of government money that goes to idiocy like the war in Iraq, and then you tack on the resistance of moralizing anti-sex right-wingers to life-saving measures like the HPV vaccine…and you don’t get the level of drug access or public health in general that you need.

  8. pharmaceutical companies make money off of treating symptoms, not curing diseases. The only people to ever “beat” AIDS have had more money than, well, you know who. Trust me. Well, don’t, but I’ve studied this and plan on writing a theisis on it. I’m not a liberal, I’m not a hippIE, but I know the facts. Also, I’m slightly drunk, so don’t mess with me! Also….I’m coming to Tel Aviv so ya’ll better watch out! I’m a scrapper!

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