STD Awareness: Gardasil and Gendered Double Standards

male female teens largeDespite the fact that it’s been approved for males for years, Gardasil is still largely seen as a vaccine for girls, and human papillomavirus (HPV) is still thought of by many as a virus that only impacts the female population. The fact of the matter is that HPV can have serious consequence for boys and men, and Gardasil is an important tool in protecting their sexual health. Why, then, does the association between girls and Gardasil persist?


Let’s stop thinking of Gardasil as the cervical cancer vaccine. Gardasil is a cancer vaccine, period.


Before Gardasil’s introduction, the pharmaceutical company Merck launched an HPV-awareness campaign to get a buzz going for their upcoming vaccine. Their talking points could be boiled down to one simple fact: HPV causes cervical cancer. Outside of the medical field, HPV was a little-known virus, and Merck strove to connect HPV and cervical cancer in the public’s mind so that, after it hit the market, Gardasil’s value would be easily recognized.

So the origins of the association between girls and Gardasil lie in its marketing — and the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially only approved its use in females. From its introduction in 2006 until 2009, Gardasil was only FDA-approved for use in girls and women, and its routine use in males was not recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices until December 2011.

While Gardasil’s website is currently gender neutral, archives show that before FDA approval for males, it contained photos of young women and female-specific language. This initial focus on female recipients could have “feminized” Gardasil, entrenching its association with girls and women in the cultural imagination. Some scholars say that, by only recommending it for one sex, the FDA implicitly assigned liability for HPV transmission to females, and advertisers framed the woman as a disease vector in taglines targeting females, such as “spread the word, not the disease.” Although a male’s sexual history is a major predictor of a female partner’s HPV status, girls and women were assigned sole responsibility for their HPV status while boys and men were not similarly burdened. Such messages downplayed the male role in HPV transmission as well as HPV’s effect on males. Continue reading

An Internship With a Purpose

cynde cassidyEditor’s Note: Today’s post is by one of PPAZ’s interns, Cassidy Olson. Cassidy is an Arizona native who was born and raised in Prescott. She is currently studying public relations at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and will be graduating in December. Cassidy has been interned in the communications and marketing department at Planned Parenthood Arizona, December 2010 through May 2011.

My internship in the communication and marketing department at Planned Parenthood Arizona (PPAZ) came about really by happenstance; however, it turned into something greater than I could have expected. As a member of Arizona State University’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), I participated in an event called “Shadow Day.” During Shadow Day, each PRSSA member was matched with a business in Phoenix to visit for a day to learn how the public relations department at each organization functioned. I had always been interested in the nonprofit side of public relations, so when I found out that I had been matched with PPAZ for the day, I was eager to learn more about nonprofit PR for a couple of hours. Never had I expected my short visit would turn into an internship lasting five months.

When I met Cynde Cerf, communication and marketing manager at PPAZ, I was in awe of the fact that she was able to manage the entire PPAZ communication department by herself. Because of this, when Cynde mentioned she was on the look-out for interns, I thought it might be a fun opportunity to learn a few things and help out. In all reality, the internship did much more than that for me. Continue reading