I have written many articles on the HPV vaccine and have been a big advocate for giving this vaccine to all adolescents . I let my patients know that I even gave it to all of my sons in their teen and early adult years (off label at the time, as it was not initially approved for males in the U.S.), as I had looked at the European data as to HPV vaccine efficacy in both males and females.
At any rate, some parents, while proponents of vaccines, did not want to vaccinate their children during their teen years, “for fear that it might promote early sexual behaviors”. I myself had not been concerned about that issue, as I have seen too many teens who never gave getting a sexually transmitted disease a second thought (though they should), prior to having their first sexual experience. I told parents, “I just wish they were thinking with their brains rather than with hormones and genitalia”.
My own impression was that by giving the HPV vaccine while re-iterating to teens and young adults the ongoing risks about STI (sexually transmitted infections), we might see more “thinking” before engaging in pre-marital sex. My hope was that by providing information about developing a STI (including those not covered by the HPV vaccine such as chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea etc) doctors and parents could also be influential in helping adolescents realize that even with HPV vaccine, “there is no safe sex”. Double win, right?
There is an article in Pediatrics (February 2014) which confirms that HPV vaccine was not tied to initiation of riskier sexual behavior. A study done at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital surveyed 339 female adolescents and young adults aged 13- 21 years following HPV vaccination. They also did follow up questionnaires 2 and 6 months post vaccine. The study showed that giving a young girl HPV vaccine did not lead to the perception that she was protected against STI’s nor did it promote sexual activity. The study did show that the girls that received HPV vaccine understood that it only protected them against HPV related disease and the possibility of developing a HPV-related wart or cancer.
Another finding in the study, was that most girls held appropriate perceptions that there was still a need to practice safe sex even after HPV vaccine, including the use of a condom.
So, if a parent is worried that HPV vaccine may lead their teen to initiate earlier sexual behavior, at least there is one study confirming that there is no association in girls. Further studies including boys should also be undertaken.
Could there be an association between not discussing risky sexual behavior, not giving the HPV vaccine and early initiation of sex? Food for thought.