June 30, 2013

Motherlode: Study affirms HPV vaccine saves lives, so why resist?

By KJ DELL'ANTONIA

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There are, in other words, other significant barriers to full HPV vaccination. The fact that more girls and boys get a first dose of the vaccine than complete the series supports the idea that those barriers are more important than physicians and researchers may realize. "Safety concerns" sound better than "convenience," but convenience may have more impact than we're willing to admit.

What might increase parental acceptance of the HPV vaccination? An education campaign, perhaps. But it may take more -- development of a vaccine suited for annual physicals, better support for parents educating teens, convenient clinics or a willingness to administer the shot outside regular working hours, for example -- to get parents over hurdles that we haven't even admitted stand in our way.

THE PEW RESEARCH CENTER, always a font of interesting factoids, conducted a nationally representative survey of 1,197 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults and found, among other things, that the median age at which respondents said they first felt they "might be something other than heterosexual or straight" was 12.

Sitting in a "move-up ceremony" with several dozen sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders recently, I couldn't help but think about that particular statistic.

The sixth-graders, one of whom was my child, were mostly without gender characteristics, other than those they had created themselves with their blue blazers or wobbly high heels. They were similar in height, mostly prepubescent and still plump with childhood. Many of those who had foresworn skirts or particularly long or short hair could easily have been of either sex.

But the graduating eighth-graders -- what a different picture. Boys a foot taller than their tallest sixth-grade counterparts, with a little stubble. The girls, too, were changed, and not just by the makeup most wore.

It's a big few years that lie ahead for my oldest child and his classmates. I knew these years would include more sexual thoughts, dreams and worries. I knew, too, on some level, that this was the time when sexual identity came to the forefront for many pre-teenagers. I just hadn't really thought hard about what that meant.

If a child, at 12 or thereabouts, begins to sense that he or she may not drop neatly into the sexual norms, what are the odds that that child will share those feelings with a parent?

Probably not very high. Of the respondents to the Pew survey, "just 56 percent say they have told their mother about their sexual orientation or gender identity, and 39 percent have told their father." Those numbers encompass all generations, but they still support a suspicion that talking to a parent about one's emerging sexual self isn't high on a teenager's list.

Which means it's up to parents to convey, in as many ways as we can, that however that identity shapes is fine with us.

Contact KJ Dell'Antonia at:

kj.dellantonia@nytimes.com

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