The truth is that most young men don’t know about the risks of HPV—and their options for preventing it—because our culture’s sexual awkwardness distorts corporate, government, and even scientific decision-making. In the mid-2000s, before the vaccination was marketed to the public, the CDC conducted extensive focus group research to ascertain the American public knowledge of, and attitude toward, HPV. “Current focus-group findings revealed that STD-associated stigma served as a barrier to HPV-vaccine acceptability,” the researchers found. “[E]xperts…cautioned strongly against focusing primarily on the sexually transmitted nature of HPV…which can be stigmatizing and detract from the more important public health concern of cervical cancer.”
Merck took note. The results can be seen in the company’s initial “One Less” advertising campaign, which used images of jump-roping school girls to advocate the vaccination use for girls ages 9 to 26. Any mention of sexual transmission, genital warts, male victims, and non-cervical HPV-linked cancers are noticeably absent.