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Does the HPV Vaccine Promote Promiscuous Behavior in Teenage Girls?

Tim Boyer's picture

One of the arguments made against the push for vaccinating minors with the HPV vaccine is that it will encourage teen girls to engage in risky sexual behavior before they have reached the legal age and maturity needed for lawful and safe sex. One of the justifications for this line of reasoning is that many youths are under the mistaken impression that the vaccine—known as Gardasil—offers protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Gardasil vaccination has been promoted by health authorities and the CDC for the past six years as prophylactic protection against infection by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that can lead to cervical cancer, abnormal pap smears and genital warts in women.

The current recommendation to effectively nip HPV infection in the bud, is that all girls between the ages of 11-12 should be vaccinated regardless of whether it is known or suspected that they are or may become sexually active. According to sexual behavior experts at the Kinsey Institute, the average age of a girl’s first experience with sexual intercourse is 17.4 years of age. However, 26% of American girls have had sexual intercourse by the time they reached age 15. And, the number leaps to 40% by age 16.

While the latest statistics have indicated a trend toward a decrease in reported sexual activity in young teens that has been attributed to increased awareness and fears of sexually transmitted disease, the danger is that all it takes is one time to become HPV infected and that the majority of older women have already been infected resulting in an increase in cases of cervical cancer.

According to a statement made by Allison Naleway, Ph.D. an epidemiologist for the Kaiser Permanente Institute, “Eighty percent of sexually active women in this country have been infected with the HPV virus at some point or another in their lifetime. So, this vaccine has a great potential to reduce that, reduce cervical cancer incidences, and reduce other HPV-related diseases, which includes genital warts.”

In a study by researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Institute published in a recent issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, their findings indicate that there is no association between increased sexual activity among young girls and taking the HPV vaccine.

According to a press release issued by the institute, “Our study found a very similar rate of testing, diagnosis and counseling among girls who received the vaccine and girls who did not,” said Robert Bednarczyk, PhD, an epidemiologist and the study’s lead author. “We saw no increase in pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections or birth-control counseling—all of which suggest the HPV vaccine does not have an impact on increased sexual activity.”

“This is reassuring news for teenagers, parents and members of the public. Our study adds to growing evidence that the HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent these rare but sometimes deadly cancers,” added Robert Davis, MD, MPH, a co-author and senior investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research-Southeast.

The study consisted of following 1,398 girls ages 11-12 under the Kaiser Permanente health plan during the first year and one-half after the Gardasil vaccine became available in 2006. Approximately 1/3 of the girls studied received at least the first of three recommended doses of Gardasil vaccination. The remaining 2/3 of the girls did not receive HPV vaccination.

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After following both the vaccinated and non-vaccinated girls health history for three years, the researchers evaluated the number of girls in both groups who had been tested for or diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, had taken a pregnancy test, and/or had been counseled about contraceptives.

What the researchers found was that:

• Approximately 10% of the girls in the current study (both those who received the vaccine and those who did not) had one or more of the aforementioned parameters measured.

• The average age of testing, diagnosis, or counseling was about 14.5 years of age.

• Less than 1 percent, were diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease or had a positive pregnancy test.

• Girls who received the HPV vaccine did not have a statistically higher rate of testing, diagnosis, or counseling compared to those who did not receive the vaccine.

The conclusion of the study by the researchers was that fears that the HPV vaccine promotes promiscuous behavior in teenage girls are unfounded. That HPV vaccination in the recommended ages of 11-12 years of age is not associated with initiation or increase in sexual behavior marked by the parameters of testing or diagnosis for a STD, pregnancy testing, and contraceptive counseling by their healthcare provider.

For the results of a study that shows that cell phone use does lead to an increase in sexual behavior among minors, follow this link to an article titled “So, What Base Qualifies as Teen Sexting?”

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: “Sexual Activity–Related Outcomes After Human Papillomavirus Vaccination of 11- to 12-Year-Olds” Pediatrics, first published online October 15, 2012; Robert A. Bednarczyk, Ph.D. et al.