Issue
A parent’s dilemma: talking about sex
Nabeehah, 14 (r) is shown with her mother, LaVonda Epps-Murphy, (l) and Maurice Murphy. Nabeehah followed her parents’ advice and was vaccinated against HPV at the recommended age of 11. (Yawu Miller photo)

It was back in 2009 when LaVonda Epps-Murphy was riding on a train and noticed a poster about a vaccine that claimed to offer protection against HPV. The poster also said the vaccine was for pre-teen girls ages 11 and 12 and that it would help reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

The message struck a chord in the 35-year-old mother. Her daughter, Nabeehah was 10 at the time going on 11.

Epps-Murphy admitted that the relative newness of the vaccine was a bit of a concern, but the health of her daughter, already plagued with asthma and food allergies, was of greater concern. Epps-Murphy made sure she was up to date on all her vaccines including a yearly flu shot.

It didn’t take her long to make a decision. A talk with her pediatrician and a bit of independent reading convinced Epps-Murphy that she was doing the right thing.

She had another reason as well. In the back of her mind, she recalls, was the experience of a close friend who had undergone major surgery on her cervix as a consequence of an HPV infection.

Epps-Murphy wanted better for her daughter. But Nabeehah was not that keen on the idea.

“She was scared at first,” explained Epps-Murphy. “She’s afraid of needles.”

But Epps-Murphy knew that a temporary bout of anxiety was not a good enough excuse to forgo protection against a preventable disease that could hit her daughter in her prime.

She developed a two-part plan. First Nabeehah had a private one-on-one with her pediatrician. Then Epps-Murphy sat her daughter down at the computer.

“I talk to my daughter about everything,” she said, including sex and its often deadly consequences. She showed her pictures of HPV-infected body parts.

That was enough to convince her daughter, but her husband took a bit more doing.

“He was apprehensive at first,” she explained. Like many parents, he was concerned that providing the vaccination was an implicit permission to engage in sex. But that seemed to be the furthest thing from Nabeehah’s mind.

“I don’t even have a boyfriend,” she explained.

Her maturity sealed the deal. He too became convinced that getting vaccinated at that age was the best choice.

Nabeehah began her three-dose regimen and, according to her mother, completed it in the recommended six-month period without any side effects.

She was a perfect candidate for HPV vaccination. She was inoculated at a young age and before her first sexual encounter, which is the ideal time to get the maximum benefit from the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, response to the vaccine is better at a younger age.

Nabeehah made a wise choice. Of course that’s to be expected. Nabeehah is a Muslim name that means eminent, brilliant and intelligent.