A new study published in the journal Pediatrics finds that giving teens the HPV vaccine, a preventative measure against future cervical cancers, does not encourage them to change their sexual behavior. Specifically, getting vaccinated for HPV does not lead young women to become sexually active or engage in risky sex.
The HPV vaccine helps protect against the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted infection that can eventually lead to cervical cancer. After it was first introduced in 2006, HPV rates among teens were cut in half. Federal officials now recommend the round of shots for all U.S. girls and women between the ages of 11 and 26, as well as for boys and men between 11 and 21. But persistent scaremongering about the vaccine — and in particular, the notion that protecting teens from an STD will lead them to engage in risky sexual behavior — has dissuaded some parents from giving it to their kids.
However, the new study found no evidence to back up those fears. After surveying both sexually experienced and inexperienced young women between the ages of 13 and 24, researchers found that the “vast majority” of participants still believed it was important to practice safe sex after getting the HPV vaccine. Most did not erroneously believe that the shot protected them against a wider range of sexually transmitted infections. All in all, there was no association with getting the HPV vaccine and immediately altering sexual behavior.
“We hope this study reassures parents, and thus improves HPV vaccination rates, which in turn will reduce rates of cervical and other cancers that can result from HPV infection,” Jessica Kahn, the study’s author and a doctor who works in adolescent medicine, said in a statement.
In fact, Kahn’s new study adds to a growing body of research that has debunked the conservative myth that HPV vaccination encourages risky sexual behavior. But even though there’s no actual evidence that taking this preventative step leads teens to become sexually promiscuous, this type of misinformation about the HPV shot has persisted. Now, estimated 70 percent of U.S. parents don’t even realize the vaccination is intended to prevent cancer.
Rates of HPV vaccination continue to lag, and the rates of related cancers continue to rise. Health officials are particularly concerned about Southern states, where a dangerously low number of teen girls are receiving the vaccine. Unsurprisingly, that region also tends to resist other preventative measures to protect teens’ sexual health, like teaching them about condoms and birth control in their health classes.