A new study has once again shown that protecting girls against HPV does not lead them to engage in sexual activity. Instead, it empowers them to protect themselves and become engaged in their reproductive health.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Over 20 million Americans have HPV, and six million new cases are diagnosed each year.
HPV can cause genital warts, cervical cancer, and anal cancer, and it is also responsible for most cases of vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers.
The good news is that researchers have developed an HPV vaccine which can protect against several strains of the Human Papillomavirus including 90% of those which cause genital warts and 70% of those which cause cervical cancer. The vaccine represents a major medical breakthrough, and it is now not only recommended for girls and women ages 9-26, but also for boys and young men.
Exciting New Findings Assuage Parents’ Fears
Even though Gardasil has been successful from a health standpoint, many people object to it on a moral standpoint. Many parents fear that vaccinating young girls against an STD will encourage them to be sexual, or that the vaccination will be viewed as ‘permission’ to engage in sexual activity.
Happily, we have research that shows otherwise. In fact, one recent study has found that the HPV vaccination has no impact on young girls’ sexual decisions.
The study, which was performed by Kaiser Permanente in Atlanta, compared the medical reports of vaccinated girls with unvaccinated girls in the three years proceeding their vaccination. What they found was very illuminating: the vaccinated girls were no more likely than the unvaccinated girls to seek birth control or undergo medical care for STD diagnosis and treatment, and they were no more likely to become pregnant.
The study is important because although previous studies showed no difference between the sexual initiation and behavior of vaccination and unvaccinated girls, that research was largely reliant on self-reported data from the girls themselves. Although this is still important data, it’s not as reliable and illuminating as the girls’ medical records themselves, which clearly and impartially show that the vaccination does not encourage girls to have sex or make them more likely to engage in risky sex.
Previous Studies Further Show Vaccination’s Benefits
A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has found that the vaccination might actually promote healthier decisions among girls and women when it comes to sex. The study followed girls and young women (from the ages of 13 to 21) after they received the vaccine, and not only did it discover that there was no higher rate of promiscuity among the vaccinated individuals, but it also found that these young women rated safer sex as a high priority.
These studies show us that the HPV vaccination doesn’t equal promiscuity. But, hopefully, it does more than that as well. Hopefully continuing research such as this can help to remind us that the HPV vaccine shouldn’t be viewed as a political issue or a moral issue. Simply put, the HPV vaccine is a medical procedure that can boost our children’s immunity to certain strains of disease and greatly reduce their risk of cancer. That’s something every parent can support, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.
Communication is Still the Best Protection
Whether you choose to vaccinate your child or not, we can all use studies such as these as teachable moment with our kids. Talking about sex isn’t a one-time thing. Instead, it needs to be a recurring conversation that we continue to have with our kids over the years, and that means giving information as well as answering questions and listening with an open mind. Vaccination aside, sometimes communication can be the best protection of all.