A new study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows what studies dating back to 2012 have shown. The human papillomavirus vaccination program does not promote more risky sexual behavior in girls. Not that this, any more than the previous studies—such as this one and this one—will change the minds of the foes of the HPV program.
Whether it’s supplement-funded Alex Jones shrieking about “chemically lobotomized” girls, Republican politicians like Michelle Malkin spouting nonsense about "innocent little 12-year-old girls" being "forced to have a government injection," or evangelical forced-birthers decrying what they call the promotion of teen promiscuity, the political attack on the vaccination program has borne all the earmarks of arrogant ignorance and scientific illiteracy that are characteristic of delusional right-wing “thought” and propaganda.
The vaccine protects against nine types of cancer caused through sexually transmitted infection with the HPV virus. The cancers most commonly attack the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women, and they can also appear in the throat, mouth, and anus, common locations for outbreaks in men. At least 80 million Americans are carriers. The vaccine also gives some protection against genital warts.
In the opinion of physicians and medical researchers, the time to vaccinate against an STI-caused cancer is before an individual ever has sex. Like it or not, that means vaccinating people at an age most Americans believe is too early for anyone to be having sex even though some young people will do so anyway. But there are in our midst ideologues who would rather take a chance on their offspring (and other people’s offspring) developing cancer than the possibility they might engage in teenage sex. Vaccinating girls (and more recently boys) right around puberty will, these critics say, encourage promiscuity among people who would otherwise supposedly never even think about having sex when they’re too young.
So they’re unhappy with the recommendation of the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Cancer Institute that every girl be vaccinated somewhere before they are 13 and as early as 9. Some also recommend vaccinating boys, and the UK has declared it will vaccinate all boys in addition to girls. Because of the opposition in the United States, fewer adolescents have received the series of three HPV shots than they have other vaccines. The study, reports Rosa Furneaux, reiterates previous studies showing there is no legitimate reason for this reluctance if promiscuity is the fear.
“As a scientist, I’ve known for years that sexual health education does not encourage youth to make poor sexual health choices,” says Gina Ogilvie, one of the principal investigators [of the study]. “What this finding does is confirm what we anticipated. It offers parents reassurance that giving young girls a vaccine prior to sexual activity does not in any way encourage poor sexual health choices.”
From 2003 to 2013 the proportion of girls who’d had sex actually dropped from 21 to 18 percent. Pregnancy rates also fell, and girls were more likely to use contraception in 2013, when the HPV vaccine was available, than 2003, when it wasn’t. And the number of girls who reported having sex before the age of 14 “dropped significantly,” according to researchers.
There will always be some kids who have sex even though it would be better for them to wait. That is true no matter how much (or little) their parents or public scolds say to them. Leaving them vulnerable to HPV-caused cancers for fear they’ll prematurely get it on sexually is a form of potentially lethal abuse.