A new study published in the Pediatrics journal today confirms there is no evidence that girls who receive the HPV vaccine — which federal officials recommend should be administered to young women starting at the age of 11, in order to help lower their future risk of cervical cancer — are any more likely to become “sexually promiscuous” than girls who are not vaccinated. The findings confirm all of the previous medical research on the Gardisil vaccine, which was first approved as safe for young women between the ages of 9 and 26 back in 2009.
Researchers used a sample of 1,398 teenage girls to compare the rates of what they considered “markers for sexual activity” — becoming pregnant, seeking birth control, or seeking treatment for sexually transmitted infections — among those who had been vaccinated around age 11 or 12 and those who had not received the vaccine. Unsurprisingly, they found no difference between the two groups of young women:
Looking at a sample of nearly 1,400 girls, the researchers found no evidence that those who were vaccinated beginning around age 11 went on to engage in more sexual activity than girls who were not vaccinated.
“We’re hopeful that once physicians see this, it will give them evidence that they can give to parents,” said Robert A. Bednarczyk, the lead author of the report and a clinical investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research Southeast, in Atlanta. “Hopefully when parents see this, it’ll be reassuring to them and we can start to overcome this barrier.” [...]
In addition to the HPV vaccine, federal guidelines also call for 11-year-olds to be immunized against meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Dr. Elizabeth Alderman, president of the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, said parents almost never object to those vaccines for their pre-adolescents. But she regularly encounters parents who balk at the HPV vaccine “because of the nature of what it’s preventing.”
Although medical professionals and federal officials have been recommending Gardisal for the past several years as an important preventative measure to safeguard women’s health, studies like this are the direct result of a manufactured controversy around the vaccine that has threatened the fight against cervical cancer. Conservatives have raised concerns that vaccinating girls to lower their risk of cancer will somehow lead to sexual promiscuity, imagining that girls who take preventative measures against contracting HPV are more likely to take sexual risks without the threat of HPV to deter them. Some Republican lawmakers have even come out against bills that would mandate the HPV vaccine for young women in their states, flying in the face of the vaccination recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unsubstantiated concerns that providing young people with resources to protect their sexual health will give them some kind of license to engage in promiscuous behavior is reminiscent of the misguided attitude that perpetuates harmful abstinence-only education in public schools across the country. Furthermore, using shame-based language to address girls’ “sexual promiscuity” runs the risk of degrading them for their normal, healthy female sexuality when they should be learning about the best ways to mitigate their sexual risks. Rather, as Dr. Jonathan Temte — a Wisconsin doctor who chairs the United States Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — told the New York Times, taking protective measures like vaccination to safeguard young people’s health is no different than giving them a helmet to ride a bike or play football.