I've encountered a few things I want to pass on lately. Starting with the book stuff:

The Dead and the Gone* 1) When I finished reading Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer last spring I wanted to press it into the hands of everyone over the age of twelve and insist that they read it. If an asteroid hit earth changing the moon's orbit and sending life on earth into chaos I'm sure Life As We Knew It and its companion book The Dead and the Gone are exactly how life would unfold for countless American families.

I wish more adults would venture into the teen section of their local bookstores or libraries because both these young adult books have the potential to appeal to a much broader age range than their place on the shelf would suggest. Susan Beth Pfeffer doesn't sugarcoat the terrifying struggle to survive in a world without electricity and sunlight. The tension will have you speeding through page after page. In fact, when I neared the end of The Dead and The Gone, while at the car dealership waiting for a car tune up this past weekend, I had to blink back tears and struggle to hold myself together.

It's not that there's no hope in Life As We Knew It or The Dead and The Gone, but what there is, is extremely hard won. Reading these books is an experience you won't forget. Congrats to Susan for hitting The New York Times bestseller list with the paperback for Life As We Knew It!

* 2) Courtney Summers' first two chapters of Cracked Up To Be are now up at her website and once you take a peek at what Parker's up to, the curiosity rapidly snowballs. I'm betting you'll be hooked and need to read the rest come December when Courtney's book arrives in stores.

* 3) David Yoo's new book, Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before, is out today. I'm looking forward to checking it out—and not just because both our titles have links to Smiths songs! Have a look at the trailer.

* 4) Online magazine Teen Scene have their first ever sex issue available daily through October 10th. Even if you're not having sex yet, or not even thinking about having sex, it's always good to be informed.

* 5) I've been coming back to this YouTube video of Swedish duo First Aid Kit covering the Fleet Foxes tune Tiger Mountain Peasant Song all week. It's strangely haunting...ageless...

And here's Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold playing Tiger Mountain Peasant Song at London's ULU in June.

* 6) I got a chance to see Michael Winterbottom's latest release, Genova, at the The Toronto International Film Festival a few weeks ago and loved it. Colin Firth plays Joe, a man who decides to spend a year in Italy with his two daughters after his wife dies in a car accident. While the youngest daughter has constant visions of her mother, the older discovers Italian boys and bitterly keeps a heartbreaking secret about her younger sister. The movie's by turns eerie, contemplative and aching. I've never seen Firth better and the two girls playing his daughters are absolutely wonderful too. THINKFilm has acquired the North American rights and Metrodome snapped up the U.K. and Irish ones so eventually it should appear in a theatre near you.
Support the First Amendment, Read a Banned BookSeptember 27th marks the beginning of the 27th annual Banned Books Week in the United States (in Canada a similar event called Freedom To Read happens February 22 - 28, 2009). This yearly American Library Association event “celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.”

In 2007 the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) received 420 reports of book challenges (“A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school.”) but while public libraries, schools and school libraries report challenges, the majority of them go unreported.

Below you'll find a list of the most challenged books of 2007, a list which was topped, for two years in a row, by a “children’s book about two male penguins caring for an orphaned egg.” Obviously some people find that idea objectionable and would like to impose those objections on others but most of us firmly believe our choice of reading material should be left in our own hands, thanks!

The 10 Most Challenged Books of 2007 (info from the ALA website)

 1. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

 2. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

 3. “Olive’s Ocean,” by Kevin Henkes
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language

 4. “The Golden Compass,” by Philip Pullman
Reasons: Religious Viewpoint

 5. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain
Reasons: Racism

 6. “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language

 7. “TTYL,” by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

 8. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou
Reasons: Sexually ExplicitThe Perks of Being a Wallflower

 9. “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris
Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

 10. “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

So what can do we do to fight censorship? The ALA offers advice here. The National Coalition Against Censorship has a toolkit for dealing with censorship in schools up at their website. Random House is featuring a First Amendment First-Aid Kit which includes a list of strategies for battling book challenges, a sample letter to media to raise awareness when censorship issues arise and more.

To celebrate BBW you might want to exercise your intellectual freedom by reading a frequently challenged book like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, A Wrinkle in Time, Native Son, Annie on my Mind or Cujo. Yup, you might be surprised what you find on the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 list!

“Don't join the book burners. Don't think you're going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book.”
—Dwight D. Eisenhower
I'm excited to report that reviews for I Know It's Over are up at Teens Read Too (and Teens Read Too reviewer Breanna's own site B is for Books), The Ya Ya Yas, propernoun dot net, Just Blinded Book Reviews and The Denver Post!

Listening to soulless Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper diss “the arts” put me in a pretty foul mood yesterday. But a couple of things have me back in reasonably good form today:

1) Margaret Atwood's article in The Globe and Mail: To be creative is, in fact, Canadian. Mr. Harper is wrong: There's more to the arts than a bunch of rich people at galas whining about their grants.

2) Watching David Letterman tear a strip off John McCain for canceling his appearance on The Late Show, pointing out that McCain lied about his reasons for ditching the show as Dave discovers that at the very moment McCain should be in the Late Show studio he's being interviewed by Katie Couric, just three blocks away at the CBS News center.

You can read about the Letterman-McCain story on the New York Times Politics blog or Nikky Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily.

And I'll end on some of Margaret's words of wisdom:
Mr. Harper's idea of an ordinary person is that of an envious hater without a scrap of artistic talent or creativity or curiosity, and no appreciation for anything that's attractive or beautiful. My idea of an ordinary person is quite different...I suggest that considering the huge amount of energy we spend on creative activity, to be creative is “ordinary.” It is an age-long and normal human characteristic: All children are born creative. It's the lack of any appreciation of these activities that is not ordinary. Mr. Harper has demonstrated that he has no knowledge of, or respect for, the capacities and interests of “ordinary people.” He's the “niche interest.” Not us.
Well, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn't care about arts funding, that much was clear when his government slashed 45 million dollars in arts funding. Just in case we missed that particular message then, here it is again:

"I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren't high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up – I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people," Harper said in Saskatoon, where he was campaigning for the Oct. 14 election.
NDP leader Jack Layton pointed out that, “Most art production in this country is done with very few resources, by people who live on very low wages or receive very little renumeration at all for their work.”

Liberal leader Stephane Dion also refuted Harper's suggestion that artists are privileged, stating that their average wage is $23,000 a year. “Most of them need to rent their suit and beautiful dresses at these galas," he said. “We have a great arts and culture industry. We need to protect its freedom. This man wants to censor our movies.”

Since when does $23,000 a year and a rented suit or dress constitute privilege in this country? It looks like Yann Martel's efforts to enlighten Prime Minister Harper by sending him a book every fortnight have failed. Don't feel too bad, Yann. It was just never gonna happen. Stephen Harper, ordinary citizen that he is, shrugs off his suit (a suit he no doubt owns, by the way) when gets home, turns on the TV and avoids all the channels that would mess with his views. Lots of Fox News on his screen, I'm guessing...

If Canadians want to drop Stephen a line here's his contact info. Of course, that literacy stuff (being able to spell out words and organize your thoughts into sentences and paragraphs) might just be for the elite now. You can always wait and send our current Prime Minister your own special message by voting for someone else on October 14th.

Having taken off his day-wear suit, Stephen Harper settles down for a night of TV watching, common man style.
Today I have the honour of sharing a book release day with Bob Dylan and Daria Snadowsky. The lyrics for Dylan's 1974 song Forever Young have been illustrated as a hardcover children's picture book and Daria's YA novel Anatomy of a Boyfriend is now available in paperback.

I'm also happy to announce the winners of the I Know It's Over contest. I received 60 entries in total and would like to thank you all for entering! As I posted on September 10th, since the participation level was so high I decided to throw in two second prizes of a signed copy each.

Bunny B wins the I Know It's Over prize pack: a signed copy of I Know It's Over, a 12"x18" IKIO poster, her choice of a courier or tote bag, a Magic 8 Ball and an advance reader copy of One Lonely Degree (when it becomes available in October).

Tasha Samborski and Diana Dang both win signed copies of I Know It's Over.

* The context question was "What's the first song on the I Know It's Over soundtrack/playlist?"

* Answer: 10 Days Late by Third Eye Blind.

Since the contest focused on the first song on the I Know It's Over playlist it seems only right to close it with the final song, Times Like These by the Foo Fighters...

Not long ago I devoted a blog entry to raving about The Airborne Toxic Event. Their debut album's everything I would've hoped and even now that it's in my possession I can't stop watching the video clip of this haunting extended acoustic version of Innocence on a daily basis. It's completely mesmirizing in its passion and anguish. Damn it breaks my heart each and every time and I keep going back for more. This is the power of music—emotionally it can take you to an entirely different place than you were the moment before a given song started.

At the Toronto film festival last week one of the director's, during a Q &;A, referred to film as “the most powerful medium we have at the moment” but I'm not so sure that's true. Every time I hear Working Class Hero I want to rail against the stupidity of our culture, a society that we allow to keep us “doped with religion, sex and TV.” Listening to Neil Young's Heart of Gold plugs me instantly in to a feeling of bottomless longing. Nina Simone's Ain't Got No/I Got Life sparks my lust for life and Billy Bragg's A Lover Sings floods me with all the awed sensations of first love.

Maybe I'm out shopping, sitting on a crowded subway car or in front of my computer in my pajamas—it doesn't matter, if the song works I go where it leads me. Many of us live our lives to music in a way we don't to other art forms. Three minutes and we're worlds away. Music is so much a part of our society that it would seem strange to me, as a writer, not to reference that. This is the reason I like to have playlists for my books. Some of the songs I may not even personally like—and the character may not like either, but they're part of his/her world.

The entire playlist for I Know It's Over can be found here but with the book coming out next Tuesday I thought I'd feature some of the songs that I either associate with the book or refer to during it.

1. 10 Days Late (Third Eye Blind)
This is the song that inspired I Know It's Over. I found it both emotionally affecting and intriguing and wanted to know how the story unfolded after he'd heard about the pregnancy. This is still a story we haven't heard from the male point of view as often.

2. Feel It in The Air (Beanie Sigel)
Nick blares Beanie Sigel after he hears the news from Sasha, wanting to escape the reality of the moment. But the song itself is filled with expectation, a feeling of impending change. 

 3. There She Goes (The La's)
So, yeah, we've all heard this song's about heroin but it still sounds like a song about that person who blows your mind too, the girl/guy you're amazed by although you maybe don't even know them that well yet. 

6. The Scientist (Coldplay)

“Nobody said it was easy/No one ever said it would be so hard.” This strikes me as a hopeful, sweet and sad song all at the same time. Things aren't where you want them to be with the relationship...but maybe they could be.

9. Get The Party Started (Pink)
Nick isn't exactly thrilled about the idea of going to Lindsay's Halloween party— and not too impressed by the music when he gets there, but it does offer other bonuses.

 13. Lose Yourself (Eminem) 

This is a total powerhouse song, and maybe not the best thing to listen to if your emotions are already on a rampage. 

  18. Sometimes Wanna Die (Joydrop)
This song is the one I associate most strongly with the book. A lot of the lyrics seem to echo exactly what Nick is feeling throughout I Know It's Over. I originally heard this song long before I ever thought of writing I Know It's Over but now I can't hear it without thinking about Nick. This song just aches. Aches and rocks. Personally, I love it.

20. Landslide ( The Dixie Chicks)

I'm a big fan of both renditions of this bittersweet song—the Stevie Nicks original and the Dixie Chicks cover. Wisdom and change, wistfully delivered in each version.

I Know It's Over aside, If you haven't had a look at that Innocence video clip yet I can't recommend it highly enough—and keep your eyes on Airborne Toxic Event's lead singer/guitarist Mikel Jollett. The guy has his guts wrapped around this song in a way I haven't seen in I don't know how long. Believe me, this is an album you want in your collection.

So far the Republican election campaign in the States hasn't featured a puffin pooping on Barack Obama's head (if the current Canadian election is a mystery to you, click here to read about the Conservative party's puffin antics) but they're certainly experts in deceit and distortion. For instance, Senator McCain would have us believe his support for U.S. troops has been unwavering but in fact, "John McCain has voted no over 10 times on pro-veteran and active service member issues such as healthcare and body armor." Check out some of the bold-faced lies the McCain campaign has been telling both about Obama and McCain's own record:

And Palin is no feminist
(except in the 2+2=5 1984 sense.)

"While Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, the police department was charging rape victims for their own rape kits." According to former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles, "There was one town in Alaska that was charging victims for this, and that was Wasilla." (*Alaska's rape rate is double the national average.) Wasilla Police Chief Charlie Fannon was a Palin appointee and given that the population of Wasilla is less than 10,000 people, it's highly unlikely she would've been unaware of this practice.

Sarah Palin doesn't believe in abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. (A report by the Center for American Progress found that "a significant correlation exists between childhood sexual abuse and teen pregnancy. An estimated 60% of teen girls’ first pregnancies are preceded by experiences of molestation, rape, or attempted rape. In one study, between 30 and 44% of teen mothers were victims of rape or attempted rape, and up to 20% of girls were pregnant as the direct result of rape.")

But at the same time Palin is unsupportive of pregnant teens (other than her own). Earlier this year she "used her line-item veto to slash funding for a state program benefiting teen mothers in need of a place to live."

In the words of Gloria Steinem:
“Palin...opposes just about every issue that women support by a majority or plurality. She believes that creationism should be taught in public schools but disbelieves global warming; she opposes gun control but supports government control of women's wombs; she opposes stem cell research but approves "abstinence-only" programs, which increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions; she tried to use taxpayers' millions for a state program to shoot wolves from the air but didn't spend enough money to fix a state school system with the lowest high-school graduation rate in the nation; she runs with a candidate who opposes the Fair Pay Act but supports $500 million in subsidies for a natural gas pipeline across Alaska; she supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, though even McCain has opted for the lesser evil of offshore drilling.”

McCain & Palin voice their anti-choice views:

Presidential Vice President nominee Palin also appears to take issue with the idea of intellectual freedom, something Time Magazine, The Boston Herald and The New York Times have written about and blogs such as Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog and AS IF! (Authors Support Intellectual Freedom) have picked up on.
To find out more about why countless female voters don't want Palin anywhere near the office of Vice President check out the Women Against Sarah Palin blog.
Toronto during the film festival is a wonder to behold, probably the only time of the year its citizens aren't busy worrying about whether the city measures up as world class. The world comes to us and together we celebrate storytelling in the form of movies. Funny stories. Triumphant stories. Stories that will break your heart. Stories of healing.

The film I saw Wednesay night was, in fact, several of these things. Skin, directed by Anthony Fabian, is the true story of Sandra Laing, a dark-skinned woman born to two white parents at the height of Apartheid in 1955 South Africa. Her struggles with identity and racism are immensely painful to watch but a testament to her great personal strength.

This was the world premiere for Skin, which has yet to be picked up for North American distribution but hopefully will be as this is a story that needs to be heard. When the real life Sandra Laing appeared at the end of the night to answer questions with director Anthony Fabian, the audience were on their feet in a shot and remained there for a long, long time.

Earlier in the week I also caught A Film With Me In It, a dark comedy of epically bad luck revolving around a death trap of an apartment. Sharply clever and knee-deep in charm, the most I can say about this Irish movie without giving the game away is that if you should ever have the misfortune of unwittingly moving into a death trap apartment, Dylan Moran as Pierce is the guy you want as your partner in crime.
A Film With Me In It

With only one TIFF screening remaining for me—Michael Winterbottom's Genova—I'm already sad at the thought of the festival's close. Toronto's one cool city, whether the festival's on or not, but it's wonderful, for that week and a half in September, to see its confidence level sky-high.
Sam Javanrouh (Daily Dose of Imagery) has captured some fabulous pictures throughout the festival. Start here and then keep on clicking 'day after.'
Stephen Harper and political ally, the puffin.“The Liberals' carbon tax plan will plunge Canada into recession, sparking economic unrest that will revive Quebec's separatist movement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says.

Harper's plan? Drill the hell out of the Alberta Tar Sands, continue clubbing them pain in the ass big-eyed baby seals, exploit the Arctic for whatever oil etc. it will give us. That gold-star plan along with Stephen Harper's cozy looking sweaters will keep us safe from recession and the separatist movement. With no more pooping puffin to rest the Tory campaign on I guess this is what we get: fear wrapped in cashmere.

To crib a line from Billy Bragg's Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards:

“Here comes the future and you can't run from it.”Our environment is already changing. If we're not bold in our plans to combat further environmental degradation we're going to have much bigger problems than separatism and the economy to deal with. This is life and death stuff—for us, for our descendants, for the birds, the bears, the trees. Closing our eyes to the threats won't make them disappear.

The time to act is now. Any political party that doesn't understand that is a party we should be afraid of.

I'm with Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams when he says: 'Anyone but Harper.' We don't have any time to spare getting the Conservatives out of power.

The Alberta Tar Sands, Google Earth
I want to thank everyone who's entered the I Know It's Over contest so far! I wish I could give everyone a copy but what I am going to do is throw in two second prizes of a signed copy each.

There's still time to enter if you haven't yet.

One I Know It's Over prize pack will be randomly awarded. The prize pack includes: a signed copy of I Know It's Over, a 12"x18" IKIO poster, the winner's choice of a courier or tote bag, a Magic 8 Ball and an advance reader copy of One Lonely Degree (when it becomes available!).

* Two additional signed copies of I Know It's Over will also be awarded for a total of three prizes.

To enter email me with your name, the subject line "IKIO Contest" and the answer to the below question by September 22nd.

* What's the first song on the I Know It's Over soundtrack/playlist? (hint: the answer appears on my website)
Draw date is September 23rd, the novel's release date.
I Know It's Over tape

And more good news for I Know It's Over today - The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books gave the book an overwhelmingly positive review! I've posted it on the review page on my website.
“I'm flabbergasted about why people would vote against their own best interests in a government that doesn't care about things like the arts or the environment.”
—Susan Sarandon while at The Toronto International Film Festival.
I don't get it either, Susan. Yet this is how Canadian political support looked according to a poll last week:

Conservative Party.......38%
Liberal Party..................28%
New Democratic Party...9%
Bloc Québécois.................8%
Green Party......................7%

Meanwhile Prime Minister Harper, while in Winnipeg on a campaign stop, apologized yesterday for a Conservative Internet ad that showed a puffin crapping on Stéphane Dion's shoulder. "It has been removed," Harper said. "It was tasteless and inappropriate. We have enough differences with the Liberals without getting into that kind of thing."

Stephane Dion being crapped on by a puffin.

You may recall that exact same Dion pose from earlier Tory literature (apparently this is the Conservatives' favourite picture of Stéphane!) :

Dion's Tax on Everything. Will you be tricked into paying more?

Does Harper's apology mean there'll be no Photoshopped images of Dion being trampled by a moose or being pecked on by Canadian geese? And what on earth are the Tories going to do with their campaign if the above has been ruled out? I mean, so far all I'm seeing are attacks on Dion and warm and fuzzy pictures of Harper in a sweater vest.

I suppose the latter is working, lulling some Canadians into a false sense of security that a vote for Harper is really a vote for Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers

Then again, maybe some Canadians are truly in favour of this:

Stephen Harper as a Sith Lord: Death Star Coming Soon!

I just don't know anymore. Like Susan Sarandon, I'm flabbergasted.
One Lonely Degree

Isn't it beautiful? There were tons of gorgeous shots from the cover photo shoot (and the models they cast looked so much like my visions of Finn and Jersy that it was unreal) but this one is my absolute favourite.

I hope to have a bit of a description to put up with this cover very soon.

jacket photograph © 2008 by Tracy Kahn

This week I'll be doing an interview with one of my favourite writer people, Courtney Summers, author of the forthcoming YA novel Cracked Up To Be, on her website/blog. I'll post again once the interview's up but if you head over to Courtney's site right now you can check our her fabulous brand new cover for Cracked Up To Be. Trust me, once you see the trailer you're definitely going to want to read the book!

***Update (September 8)***

* The interview's now up! Courtney asks all sorts of delving questions about I Know It's Over and there's even a zombie question!
The Airborne Toxic EventDo you know how sometimes you're going about your life as usual, getting stuff done, and then suddenly you read or hear or see something that makes you stop and pay attention—like really pay attention and wonder how on earth it is that you didn't stumble across this particular band/author/director/artist etc. before? Because what he or she or they have created is like a glorious shiny wonder in a mostly unremarkable heap of the familiar, contrived or uninspired.

Yeah, so THAT happened today when I listened to a band called The Airborne Toxic Event doing some acoustic versions of their tracks here. So obviously I couldn't stop there and had to pull up their MySpace and do some YouTube searching.

Innocence (acoustic, extended)

Sometime Around Midnight

Gasoline (acoustic)

Listen to the lyrics and you won't be at all surprised to learn that their lead singer and guitarist Mikel Jollett was, before turning to music, working on a novel.

Needless to say I've just ordered their self-titled first album, which was released on August 5th, and I can't wait until it gets its glorious shiny wonder self over here!
Here in Ontario secondary students are already back at school but for most university students September 8th will be the first day of class. Media reports about on campus sexual assaults usually focus on attacks by strangers but what we don't typically hear about are the much more common incidences of acquaintance rape. According to RAINN, college age women are at the highest risk for being sexually assaulted (four times more likely to be assaulted). U.S. Department of Justice data shows that 34% of rapes and 45% of attempted rapes among college students are on campus.

Via the SAFER blog I landed on an enlightening article at Kent State’s News Net about how "the first few weeks of a college student's freshman and sophomore year pose the highest risk for rape," specifically acquaintance rape. "Statistically, sexual assaults occur in a residence, either the victim's own residence or someone else's," Alice Ickes, crime prevention officer for the Kent State Police Department, says. "They tend to occur when someone comes as a social call or in a party situation." RAINN also has new back-to-school tips for students, to help them stay safe.

A Scarleteen article on dealing with rape recommends making "your personal limits clear, and do not be afraid or shy to do so. The biggest contributors to sex crimes in this culture are silence and shame." Sex ed site Scarleteen also has a fantastic article about what guys can do to prevent rape. The Men Can Stop Rape organization, which mobilizes young men "to work as allies with women in preventing rape," also has a terrific list of free handouts to download on supporting survivors, rape as a men's issue, male survivors and more.

Ultimately, two of the best things you can do for yourself and your friends is to watch out for each other and to challenge societal attitudes (eg. a mass media that routinely depicts women as sexual objects) that make sexual assault more likely to occur. The last thing young women should have to worry about while settling in to their new lives at college is being sexually assaulted! Let's help make college campuses (and our schools, homes and communities) a safe place for everyone.

doctorAt long last Ireland has begun a national cervical cancer screening program. As of today, all women between the ages of 25 and 60 will be offered free cervical screening. Samples will be taken by participating family doctors and tested in two U.S. laboratories.

This is a huge step forward for Ireland, which currently has one of the highest cervical cancer fatality rates in western Europe at 70 deaths from the disease each year. One in five women living in Ireland have never had a cervical smear test.

Unfortunately, the sexually transmitted disease HPV ("some strains of which are potentially cancerous, and some which are direct causes of cervical cancer") is hugely common. "Most sexually active adults will have HPV at some time in their lives" and "at least one-third of all sexually active young adults have genital HPV infections."

If you think HPV isn't something you personally need to worry about, consider the following:

I've only ever been with one person.1) "Even people with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV, if their partner was infected with HPV."

I always use condoms.2) Correct condom usage helps lower chances of acquiring and passing on human papillomavirus but because HPV can infect areas not covered by a condom they don't offer complete protection.

I feel fine.3) Some cancers of the cervix have no symptoms.

He says he's fine.4) Currently, there is no test designed or approved to find HPV in men.

But back to what the new cervical cancer screening program will mean to Ireland. Experts predict "that a combination of (HPV) vaccination and cervical cancer screening could prevent up to 95%" of cervical cancer cases.

The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the better the outcome. This is why regular pap smears are crucial—something women everywhere should be mindful of (whether you've had the HPV vaccine or not). If you've recently become sexually active and/or are going to be making your first gynecology visit soon, check out Scarleteen's article on the subject to demystify the experience. Aside from HPV there are a ton of other sexually transmitted diseases to watch out for and in this regard safer sex practices and doctor visits are amongst your best defenses. Stay healthy!

Some Additional Reading

Genital HPV Infection - CDC Fact Sheet
Safe, Sound & Sexy: A Safer Sex How-To
Condom Basics: A User's Manual
Misconception Mayhem: Separating STI Myths from Facts
Testing, Testing...
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