HPV Vaccine Doesn't Encourage Teen Girls to Have More Sex, So Let's Stop the Scaremongering

Score one for common sense: A new study finds that the HPV vaccine does not encourage teens to have more sex. For years social conservatives have been scaremongering about the vaccine, operating under the theory that preventing girls from getting cervical cancer will lead to widespread moral degradation. Remember when you were a teenager and the only thing stopping you from engaging in massive orgies was your fear of catching HPV? No? No of course not, because that would be insane. To the extent that you were holding off on sex out of fear, it was probably of things like pregnancy and AIDS and being labeled a slut by your classmates.

To anyone not blinded by moral panic and cultural war grievances, removing one sexually transmitted infection from the arsenal of possible STIs seems unlikely to provoke widespread changes in teen sexual behavior. In essence: Teen girls are smarter than that. They can grasp that getting vaccinated against HPV does nothing to reduce their chances of unwanted pregnancy or the Clap. And, indeed, this new survey of more than 300 girls between the ages of 13 and 21 shows just this. Getting vaccinated against HPV had no bearing on a girl's decision to become sexually active or the types of sexual activities she engaged in.

For the study, researchers interviewed girls before getting an HPV shot and at two and six months after. Of the 99 girls who were not sexually active before getting the vaccine, only 20 became sexually active within the next six months. Of the 58 percent who were already sexually active, most said they were using condoms at the study's start and at two and six months later.

"We didn't find anything concerning," said lead researcher Jessica Kahn. She hopes this study will help alleviate "parental concerns" about HPV shots.

The vaccine is still relatively unpopular compared to other adolescent vaccines — in 2012, only about a third of teenage girls got all three recommended doses of the vaccine (about half got a single dose), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's a major shame, considering HPV is responsible for about 70 percent of all cervical cancers and 50 percent of all cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and throat. Concerns that getting girls vaccinated will encourage promiscuity could quite literally be killing them. Let's hope this new study helps inject some sense back into the national conversation on HPV vaccines.