From Desire to Disease: Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and the Medicalization of Nascent Female Sexuality

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Journal of Sex Research





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This article critically examines the proliferation of information on the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination as integral to contemporary processes of medicalization that take the young female body and her nascent sexuality as its primary object and target. We suggest that the recent introduction of voluntary HPV vaccination for girls, in North America and elsewhere, constitutes a form of neomedicalization (Batt & Lippman, 2010Batt , S. , & Lippman , A. ( 2010 ).Preventing disease: Are pills the answer?In A. Rochon Ford & D. Saibil (Eds.), The push to prescribe: Women and Canadian drug policy (pp. 47 – 66 ). Toronto :Women's Press .) that links risks for future disease (cervical cancer) with the transmission of a common, sexually transmitted infection (HPV). Informed by findings from a critical discourse analysis of Canadian English newspapers, magazines, and public information about HPV vaccination, our interest is on how the emergence of sexual relationships becomes constructed as a time fraught with risks to future health, and that must be managed through biotechnological intervention (vaccination). We suggest that this configuration of medicalization, rather than demarcate a new category of abnormality that can be treated with pharmaceutical or medical intervention, positions the emergence of sexuality itself as the basis of risk and pathologization. The article concludes by considering the implications of this form of medicalization for constructions of female sexuality and sexual health education.