By Kaitlyn Schaeffer

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection is very common; the Center for Disease Control estimates that nearly all sexually active males and females will contract it at some point in their lifetimes. HPV can cause sexually transmitted diseases such as genital warts, and cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancers. In 2011, more than 12,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 perished from it that year.

But HPV is preventable – the vaccine is administered in three doses over a period of six months, inoculating recipients against the nasty HPV strains that cause STDs and cancer.

Despite its promise, only 57% of girls between the ages of 13 and 17 have received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine, and a dismal 38% have received all three.

Why are so few girls receiving a vaccine that promises to protect them from so much?

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that some girls may develop a false sense of security about STDs and either start having earlier sex or unsafe sex,” so the reasoning goes. Once a girl has been immunized against some of the risks associated with sexual activity, she will, of course, throw caution to the wind and embark on a series of wild liaisons.

Similar logic was used to argue against providing girls and young women with birth control. The untameable behavior that would surely ensue outweighed any health benefits.

Well, providing women with birth control did not increase the likelihood that they would participate in risky sexual activity.

And neither does vaccinating women against HPV. A CDC study published in 2011 found no evidence that the HPV vaccination encouraged risky sexual behavior among women; the American Academy of Pediatrics confirmed this result with similar findings in 2012. Most recently, a study published last month reached the same conclusion: researchers compared the rates of STD infections between a group of 20,000 vaccinated girls aged 12 to 18 and a group of 100,000 unvaccinated girls aged 12 and 18 over a five-year period, finding no association between vaccination and a higher incidence of STD infection. By using STDs as a metric, the researchers were able to examine a large sample of women and determine whether receiving the shot resulted in a greater tendency to participate in unsafe sexual practices. Anupam B. Jena, an author of the study and an assistant professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, explained that the data indicate that the vaccine is not associated with an increase in unsafe sexual activity.

Read the full article here.