Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


gardasil

Sex and the Teenage Girl, Redux

• December 03, 2012 • 1:08 PM

Like the morning-after pill, the HPV vaccine doesn’t encourage teen promiscuity, either.

Last week, we reported on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that doctors “pre-prescribe” Plan B for teenage girls, the logic being that, in the event of an accident, it’s a lot easier to dig through your sock drawer than to find a ride to an urgent care clinic. Critics worry that prior prescription will encourage promiscuity, but we presented evidence from several studies that argue otherwise.

This debate is reminiscent of the one surrounding Gardasil, the HPV vaccine approved in 2006 and now recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for all pre-pubescent boys and girls. HPV can cause both genital warts and cervical cancer, and most sexually active Americans will contract it at least once in their lifetimes, according tothe CDC, even if they never realize it.

Championed by public health officials and covered by most insurers, Gardasil has nevertheless been slow to take off. First, there are the conspiracy theorists, who see Big Pharma’s greedy machinations behind every new drug, or subscribe to Andrew Wakefield’s theory that childhood vaccines cause autism. (Despite both doctor and data having been thoroughly discredited, a 2011 NPR poll showed that 21 percent of Americans still buy into the bogus claim.)

Then there are the civil libertarians, who hate states’ “no school without shots” laws. “To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat-out wrong,” Michele Bachmann argued at a Republican presidential primary debate last year, and later told Fox News, “There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine.”

Finally, there are the family values folks, who wring their hands over Gardasil for the same reason they do over Plan B—the lasciviousness! The promiscuity! What will happen to the innocence of youth?

The answer, apparently, is nothing. A Kaiser Permanente study, published in Pediatrics in October, followed 1,400 girls, aged 11 and 12, a third of whom received Gardasil and two-thirds of whom did not. (Nationally, the researchers estimate, just half of eligible girls in the U.S. have received any part of the three-shot course.) After three years, the vaccinated girls were no more likely to have become pregnant or contracted a sexually transmitted infection than their unprotected classmates.

“We saw no increase in pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections or birth control counseling—all of which suggest the HPV vaccine does not have an impact on increased sexual activity,” Robert Bednarczyk, an Emory University epidemiologist, was quoted in a release that accompanied the study.

The finding comports with a British study, published earlier this year in Vaccine, which surveyed 1,000 teenage girls and found that Gardasil didn’t encourage high-risk sexual behavior or discourage condom use. (The vaccine is offered free-of-charge to schoolgirls in the U.K., and the inoculation rate among pre-teens is as high as 84 percent.) Despite national fears that Gardasil would prove “yet another green light on the road to promiscuity,” as one Daily Mail writer phrased it, the data simply didn’t support such hysterics.

There are plenty of good reasons for parents to worry themselves sick about their teenage daughters. The HPV vaccine, like Plan B, isn’t one of them.

Kevin Charles Redmon
Kevin Charles Redmon is a journalist and critic. He lives in Washington, D.C.

More From Kevin Charles Redmon

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


Follow us


My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.