Sex, drugs, and politics: the HPV vaccine for cervical cancer

Sociol Health Illn. 2008 Sep;30(6):886-99. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2008.01100.x.


HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world. While most strains are relatively harmless, some increase a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer. This article explores the intimate, contested relationships among etiologies of cervical cancer, development and use of the new HPV vaccine, and contested notions of sexuality. We particularly focus on shifts in US health care and sexual politics, where the vaccine has animated longstanding concerns about vaccination (e.g. parental rights, cost, specialisation) and young women's bodies and behaviour. We conclude that vaccines are a distinctive kind of pharmaceutical, invoking notions of contagion and containment, and that politics shape every aspect of the pharmaceutical life course.

MeSH terms

  • Drug Industry
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Papillomavirus Vaccines*
  • Pharmacology
  • Politics*
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Sexuality*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / etiology
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control*


  • Papillomavirus Vaccines