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Sexual Matters Don't Sway Mothers On HPV Vaccine

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The opinions of women about sexual matters do not play a significant role in their decisions about whether girls in their care should receive a vaccine against a sexually transmitted virus, according to a new survey.

The findings counteract assumptions that some mothers refuse to let their daughters be receive the HPV vaccination because they oppose sex before marriage, said study lead author Susan Rosenthal, director of the Division of Adolescent and Behavioral Health at University of Texas Medical Branch.

“Although there is a small minority of parents who object to the vaccine because of their beliefs about sexuality and the fact that it prevents a sexually transmitted infection, to most parents the mode of transmission is not what’s important,” she said.

The Food & Drug Administration approved the first vaccine against human papillomavirus, or HPV, in 2007. A federal advisory committee recommends that all females ages 11 to 12 routinely receive the vaccine. The committee is advising female ages 13 to 26 to obtain it as well.

The virus can cause cervical cancer and, in both sexes, other kinds of cancer and genital warts.

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Some critics oppose mandatory vaccinations because of concerns that they would promote sexual activity.

In the new study, published in the September issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers surveyed 153 mothers and guardians of daughters ages 11 to 17 who visited a pediatric clinic in Galveston, Texas, in 2007 and 2008.

The women were of mixed socioeconomic levels and mostly ethnic minorities. No men participated so that the results would better reflect women’s beliefs as a whole, Rosenthal said.

Only 26 percent of the women surveyed said the girls in their care had begun receiving vaccine injections or had finished the course; another 22 percent planned to have the girls vaccinated within a year.

A statistical analysis found that the women’s views on sexuality and intercourse before marriage had little to do with their vaccine decisions.

“The families who are struggling with what to do about this vaccine are focused on issues like safety” instead of sexual morality, Rosenthal said. “They want us to have more experience with it and have it used by more people.”

Deborah Maine, an epidemiologist at Boston University, said the study is sound and shows how “we tend to overrate the power of conservative forces in our society on the everyday lives of people — [for example] Roman Catholics use contraception and have abortions at about the same rates as other women in this country.”