When the first vaccines were introduced against the human papillomavirus, some people worried that this anti-cancer vaccine would give young women the wrong idea. The vaccines, which protect against common cancer-causing strains of HPV, don't guard against other sexually transmitted infections or unwanted pregnancies. But some parents and physicians thought that vaccine recipients might forgo condoms more often, have more sexual partners or otherwise engage in riskier sexual behaviors than women who were not vaccinated.
However, a study published today in Pediatrics says that's not the case. According to the new research, young women don't change their sexual behaviors after receiving the HPV vaccine. The researchers asked more than 300 girls and women, aged 13 to 21, about their risk perception and their sexual behaviors when they received their first dose of the HPV vaccine. They followed the group over time, repeating the questions 2 and 6 months later, when the vaccine's booster shots were delivered.
"Most participants in this study did not perceive that they had a lower risk for STIs other than HPV, and most believed that safer sexual behaviors were still important," the study's authors wrote. Later, they add, "These findings contribute to the growing literature suggesting that HPV vaccination is unlikely to alter sexual risk behaviors in young women."
I asked Stanford's Sophia Yen, MD, for her take on the results. Yen provides HPV vaccinations in her role as an adolescent medicine specialist at the Teen and Young Adult Clinic at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. "The findings are not surprising and re-emphasize what other studies have shown," she told me, adding that she hopes the study will be repeated in males, since boys have now begun receiving the HPV vaccine, too.
In the meantime, Yen plans to continue using this and other scientific evidence to reassure parents about the value of the vaccine. "I hope that the findings of this study and its many other predecessors will become widely known to parents and other non-adolescent medicine specialists who see adolescents, and to policymakers," she said. "Let's prevent STDs and cervical cancer together."
Previously: Study shows racial disparities in HPV vaccination, Packard Children's adolescent and young-adult specialist offers tips for college-bound students, HPV-associated cancers are rising, HPV vaccination rates still too low, new national report says and Only one-third of teenage girls get HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer
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