Surprise! Talking openly about HPV doesn’t lead to more teens having sex or more unsafe sex
A new study has found that states that promote the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine through various means don’t increase risky sexual behavior in teens. Shocking, I know.
The study, which was published in the scientific journal Pediatrics, found that there’s no difference in teens’ sexual behavior in states that promote the HPV vaccine and states that don’t. Specifically, teens in both types of states had the same amount of sex and didn’t have more or less unsafe sex.
“Concern that legislation will increase risky adolescent sexual behaviors should not be used when deciding to pass HPV legislation,” the study said.
The study compared teens in states with HPV vaccination promotion with states without promotions, then looked at the results of a multi-year survey of risky teen behavior.
Currently, state policies that promote HPV vaccinations among kids are extremely controversial with conservatives arguing that promoting the vaccines, which prevent almost 100 percent of cervical cancer in women, would increase promiscuity or sex without condoms.
Legislation related to HPV vaccine promotion has been passed in 23 states as well as Washington, DC. Promotion varies, from in-school awareness campaigns, to programs where insurance companies cover the cost of the shots.
“The big takeaway is that passage of legislation regarding HPV didn’t seem to be associated with any changes in adolescent sexual behaviors in the sample of states we were able to look at,” Erin Cook, the study’s primary author from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told PBS.
Cook was sure to add, though, that the study didn’t analyze the scope or effectiveness of the different state promotions — but instead simply focused on either the presence or absence of HPV vaccine promotion.
HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases that affects an estimated 79 million people in the United States. It’s been strongly linked to a number of cancers, including cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It’s also been linked to some forms of oral cancer.
While the HPV vaccine has been found to safely prevent the virus and the cancers, and while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends the vaccine, less than half of girls and even fewer boys currently receive the full series of shots.
State-led promotion of the shots can help raise awareness about the disease and about the importance of the vaccines, literally saving lives.
“We as a society need to decide how much we want to prevent cervical cancer for the children of today,” said Gary Freed, a pediatrician and professor at the University of Michigan, and the chair of the National Vaccine Advisory Council. “That’s really what this is all about. We can make pap smears a thing of the past.”
This isn’t the first study that’s found that HPV vaccine education doesn’t affect teen sexual activity. A 2015 study found that teens girls who get the HPV vaccine don’t end up with an increased number of sexually transmitted diseases due to increased unsafe sex.