June 28, 2019
Kritika Patel*, a 28-year-old engineer who grew up in Denver, never got the sex talk. Instead, when it was time to get an HPV shot, her mother avoided the conversation and refused the shot. She was afraid that the shot, which guards against viruses that can lead to cancer or genital warts, would encourage Patel to be sexually active.
“My mom immediately was like, nope, she’s good,” Patel, who is Indian American, recalled. “She’s not having sex and she won’t have sex for a very long time.”
Patel became sexually active at 18, and eventually contracted HPV. She was later diagnosed with cervical cancer. She didn’t tell her parents right away, afraid that she would disappoint them. In her mind, her family still frowned on sex before marriage. Patel’s situation may have been preventable if her parents were prepared to give her the “sex talk” when she was a teenager — an open and ongoing conversation on why the HPV vaccine is important, the pleasures of sex and its repercussions, and consent.