• HPV and sexual activity

    Back during primary season, I got a little hot and bothered when some candidates made some crazy claims about the HPV vaccine. Those claims were, of course, completely unfounded. But I acknowledged that the reason that some are potentially opposed to the HPV vaccine in adolescent girls is that they believe that it sends an implicit signal to those girls that the sexual activity through which they might acquire HPV is permissible. In other words, they believe that if you give girls the vaccine, it might make them more likely to have sex.

    That’s an answerable question. Many of the studies that have looked at this in the past were flawed. But in a recent study in Pediatrics, researchers sought to answer this question in a more robust way. “Sexual Activity–Related Outcomes After Human Papillomavirus Vaccination of 11- to 12-Year-Olds

    OBJECTIVE: Previous surveys on hypothesized sexual activity changes after human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination may be subject to self-response biases. To date, no studies measured clinical markers of sexual activity after HPV vaccination. This study evaluated sexual activity–related clinical outcomes after adolescent vaccination.

    METHODS: We conducted a retrospective cohort study utilizing longitudinal electronic data from a large managed care organization. Girls enrolled in the managed care organization, aged 11 through 12 years between July 2006 and December 2007, were classified by adolescent vaccine (HPV; tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis, adsorbed; quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate) receipt. Outcomes (pregnancy/sexually transmitted infection testing or diagnosis; contraceptive counseling) were assessed through December 31, 2010, providing up to 3 years of follow-up. Incidence rate ratios comparing vaccination categories were estimated with multivariate Poisson regression, adjusting for health care–seeking behavior and demographic characteristics.

    They looked at 1398 girls, of whom 493 received the HPV vaccine and 905 did not. Then they looked at the pregnancy rates among those two groups, as well as pregnancy testing rates. They also looked at the rates for sexually transmitted infection testing and actual disease. And they looked at reported contraceptive counseling  And what did they find? There were no significant differences in these occurances between girls who received an HPV vaccine and those who did not.

    Here’s that in a chart:

    Do you see a difference? Me neither. There’s no association between an adolescent girl getting the HPV vaccine and her engaging in sexual activity. Since there’s a definite benefit, and the harm seems to be mostly mythical, giving this should be a no-brainer.


    • Hi Aaron. Perhaps the study answered this question (I have not read it) but: regarding the first result, is it possible that those who had the HPV vaccine did not seek out testing at the same rate as those who did not have it, perhaps thinking that they were “covered” since they had the vaccine?

      Just a thought.

      Also I don’t dispute the result, but it flies in the face of the idea that when you make something less costly (in this case, sexual activity is less costly since there is less downside from contracting HPV) you get more of it.

    • There are some of us who oppose it still because of distrust of big Pharma and the FDA. Without dreaming up some giant conspiracy or even taking at face value the many concerns raised over vaccinations in general (I do not see any connection with autism, etc), I still have deep concerns that this particular vaccine has not been tested long enough for certainty about safeness and side effects, especially as people age.

      So I’m clear, if I believed it was as safe as advertised, I would totally support your position.

    • Every “conservative” argument regarding premarital/teen sex is based on nonsensical assumptions that have no basis in fact.

      The fact is that many teens are going to be sexually active.It’s not even a sign of modern degeneracy; it’s hormones and human nature. It’s been like this forever, and always will be. It does not matter if the young ladies in question received a vaccine, or attended church three times a week since birth. The latter situation describes my mother, who is young enough to be my sister, despite the intense religious beliefs of my family.

      The best way to prevent one’s daughter from such risky behavior is to increase their self-esteem, but even that will not stop teen sexual activity. Abstinence is an admirable goal, and we should certainly stress it’s value to our daughters, but imagining that vaccines are going to make a girls decide it is okay to have sex is simply ignorant. The fear of pregnancy and STDs is often not enough to prevent activity, and never has been. Heck, the fear of God has never been enough to eliminate teen sex. Biology often trumps both reason and faith.

      Teens must be educated in safe practices so that they do not fall victim to ignorance, and taught to treasure themselves so as not to give away their innocence. But to err is human, and to REALLY err is the nature of adolescence. It would be nice if teens could all restrain themselves and their passions, but imagining that anything will eliminate all teen sex is delusional. Imagining that a teen girl thinks, “I got my HPV vaccine, so it’s okay to have sex,” is simply stupid.

    • I can’t believe that this result would be surprising to anybody.

      The notion that the HPV vaccine would increase sexual activity seems to rely on the assumption that there was a substantial cohort of girls who were holding off on sex because they’re afraid of HPV. Given that basically no teenage girls had ever even heard of HPV until the Guardasil ads appeared, this seems vanishingly unlikely.

      “A vaccine for a virus that I had never heard of. My prayers are answered! I can go off and be promiscuous now!” Seriously?