Teen Girls 2.0

Raising adolescent daughters in the 21st century. 

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HPV Vaccine Doesn't Cause Promiscuity

New study puts parents’ concerns about the HPV vaccine to rest

Good news! Research published this month in the journal Pediatrics concludes that girls who are vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) do not subsequently become promiscuous.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. and can cause cancers of the cervix, anus, and throat, although most strains of HPV do not produce any symptoms and disappear on their own.

The researchers followed a sample of 1,400 girls from 2006 to 2010. In 2006, the girls were 11 or 12 and roughly a third received the HPV vaccine. Using objective markers of sexual activity, including pregnancy, counseling on contraceptives, and testing or diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections, the researchers found no difference in sexual activity for the third who were vaccinated compared to the two-thirds who were not. 

In 2006, public health officials began recommending that girls be routinely vaccinated against HPV starting at age 11. More recently, officials have begun to include boys in their recommendations, citing new evidence that somes strains of the virus can also cause cancer in boys.

Nearly a third of children 14 to 19 years old are infected with HPV. Yet parents have been slow to vaccinate their daughters (and sons) and states have been reluctant to issue mandatory vaccination orders. To date, no state government has successfully mandated an HPV vaccine, although Virginia and Washington, D.C. have enacted loose vaccination requirements for sixth grade girls.

States have been slow to issue mandatory vaccination orders out of concern that they violate parental rights, counter the message of abstinence education, and will increase sexual activity among youth. Parents have been slow to voluntarily vaccinate their daughters against HPV fearing the vaccine is an invitation to teenage promiscuity. The new study should put these concerns to rest.

Parents’ reluctance to vaccinate against HPV mirrors their fears of talking with their children about sex. The most frequent question I hear from parents is: Won’t talking about sex encourage teens to have sex? The simple answer is no. There is absolutely no evidence that talking about sex—including discussing contraception—leads youth to have sex. This is a myth much like the notion that vaccinating youth against a sexually transmitted infection will lead to promiscuity.

October is Let's Talk Month, a national public education campaign coordinated by Advocates for Youth to encourage parent-child communication about sexuality. Talking about sex doesn’t lead to sex anymore than vaccinating a child against HPV leads to promiscuity. In fact, teens who have plenty of information about sexuality and have supportive parents tend to make more informed decisions about sex—including deciding to wait. And a number of studies show that youth want to learn about sexuality from their parents—even if they don’t always act like it. So parents start your engines—it’s time to talk!


Teen Girls 2.0