According to some troubling new headlines out today, the HPV vaccine may make girls think they can forget about practicing safe sex because they're protected against all the nasty stuff lurking in other people's bodily fluids. Yet, just last week, parents were being assured that the vaccine doesn't turn little girls into sexpots. The public debate over whether the HPV vaccine is a safe, life-saving measure or a license to participate in a variety of risky sexual behaviors continues! (Hint: It's the former.)
While it's true, as MSNBC reports, that "Some adolescent girls who get the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer wrongly think they no longer need to practice safe sex," the good news is that they're actually in the minority. For a new study published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 339 girls ages 13 to 21 were questioned about how they believed their risk for STD was changed after receiving their first HPV shot. Most knew that the vaccines only prevent some types of HPV infections that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. However, 23.6 percent said they thought they were less at risk for getting all STDs.
The group studied was small and the authors said it may not be representative of the general population. All of the girls came from a single urban clinic serving a low-income community. The girls who held that view were more likey to have less information about the vaccine, less concern about contracting HPV, and were less likely to have used a condom the last time they had sex with a man.
While it's likely that all some people will take from this finding is that giving girls a shot associated with sex in some way is dangerous and immoral, that's absolutely not the case. It's concerning that so many girls in the study misunderstood the function of the vaccine, but the researchers don't suggest that should dissuade anyone from being vaccinated. Their point is that doctors need to make sure that parents and their daughters thoroughly understand what the what the shot does and does not do. Being vaccinated isn't putting girls in danger, but not talking openly and accurately about sexual health definitely is.