The good news, which you may have already heard, is that there is a new vaccine effective against the human papilloma viruses (HPV) that cause 70% of cervical cancer. It also provides immunity to two of the viruses that cause genital warts. It has the potential to save thousands of lives in the U.S. each year and should have an even greater impact in developing countries, where pap smears are not obtained as regularly and more cervical cancer presents at a later stage, resulting in a higher death rate.
The bad news is that some people don't want to give it to their kids because they think it will make them go out and have sex. I find this slightly unbelievable, although I really shouldn't be surprised, because I know full well that the efforts of such people have really hampered sex education in the U.S.
The general principle of these naysayers seems to be that any discussion of ways to make sex safer or have fewer consequences will automatically make it more likely that young people will have sex. I don't think that's true, nor do I think there is any data to support that view. (Unfortunately, this subject is more often discussed with emotion as the foundation rather than data.) Plus, it stands to reason that what is learned in the child's home and upbringing will influence them much more than any sex education in the schools.
Don't get me wrong. I don't mind if people want to teach abstinence as a way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. It's a free country, and people can believe what they want. Also, I happen to think that abstinence followed by monogamy has a lot of advantages. I personally don't mind if that is taught in schools, and it certainly can be taught in the home. But we can't teach only abstinence; we have to also teach birth control and use measures like the HPV vaccine to prevent some bad consequences of sex. I think that kids are sophisticated enough to hear the twin messages of abstinence being a good thing, but that if you are not abstinent, use some protection - please! To teach only abstinence is to deny a basic reality of our world: lots of people have sex (and lots of people have venereal diseases, unintended pregnancies, and cervical cancer.)
I feel sorry for the kids of people who will deny their kids the HPV vaccine. In essence, they are increasing the chances that their children will get cancer. That just doesn't sound like good parenting to me.