Menus Subscribe Search
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

August 22 • 4:00 PM

The Invention of the Illegal Immigrant

It’s only fairly recently that we started to use the term that’s so popular right now.



August 22 • 2:00 PM

What Can U.S. Health Care Learn From the Ebola Outbreak?

A conversation with Jeanine Thomas, patient advocate, active member of ProPublica’s Patient Harm Facebook Community, and founder and president of the MRSA Survivors Network.


August 22 • 1:22 PM

Two Executions and the Unity of Mourning

The recent deaths of Michael Brown and James Foley, while worlds apart, are both emblematic of the necessity for all of us to fight to uphold the sanctity of human dignity and its enduring story.


August 22 • 10:00 AM

Turbo Paul: Art Thief Turned Art Crime Ombudsman

There’s art theft, there’s law enforcement, and, somewhere in between, there’s Turbo Paul.


August 22 • 8:00 AM

When Climate Change Denial Refutes Itself

The world is warming—and record-cold winters are just another symptom.


August 22 • 6:17 AM

The Impossibility of the Night Shift

Many night workers get “shift-work sleep disorder.” And no one knows how to treat it.


August 22 • 6:00 AM

Long Live Short Novels

Christopher Beha’s Arts & Entertainments comes in at less than 300 pages long, which—along with a plot centered on a sex-tape scandal—makes it a uniquely efficient pleasure.


August 22 • 4:00 AM

Why ‘Nature Versus Nurture’ Often Doesn’t Matter

Sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense to try to separate the social and the biological.


August 21 • 4:00 PM

Julie Chen Explains Why She Underwent Westernizing Surgery

The CBS news anchor and television personality’s story proves that cosmetic surgeries aren’t always vanity projects, even if they’re usually portrayed that way.


August 21 • 2:37 PM

How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There’s heightened functional connectivity between the brain’s emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.


August 21 • 2:00 PM

Cracking Down on the Use of Restraints in Schools

Federal investigators found that children at two Virginia schools were being regularly pinned down or isolated and that their education was suffering as a result.


August 21 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, School Principal?

Noah Davis talks to Evan Glazer about why kids aren’t getting smarter and what his school’s doing in order to change that.



August 21 • 10:00 AM

Why My Neighbors Still Use Dial-Up Internet

It’s not because they want to. It’s because they have no other choice.


August 21 • 8:15 AM

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.


August 21 • 8:00 AM

To Fight the Obesity Epidemic Americans Will Have to First Recognize That They’re Obese

There is a void in the medical community’s understanding of how families see themselves and understand their weight.


August 21 • 6:33 AM

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.


August 21 • 6:00 AM

The Fox News Effect

Whatever you think of its approach, Fox News has created a more conservative Congress and a more polarized electorate, according to a series of recent studies.


August 21 • 4:00 AM

Do Children Help Care for the Family Pet?

Or does mom do it all?


August 20 • 4:00 PM

Why Can’t Conservatives See the Benefits of Affordable Child Care?

Private programs might do a better job of watching our kids than state-run programs, but they’re not accessible to everyone.


August 20 • 2:00 PM

Oil and Gas Companies Are Illegally Using Diesel Fuel in Hundreds of Fracking Operations

An analysis by an environmental group finds hundreds of cases in which drillers used diesel fuel without obtaining permits and sometimes altered records disclosing they had done so.


August 20 • 12:00 PM

The Mystery of Britain’s Alien Big Cats

In a nation where the biggest carnivorous predator is a badger, why are there so many reported sightings of large cats?


August 20 • 10:00 AM

Death Row in Arizona: Where Human Experimentation Is the Rule, Not the Exception

Recent reports show that chemical roulette is the state’s M.O.


August 20 • 9:51 AM

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.


Follow us


The Impossibility of the Night Shift

Many night workers get “shift-work sleep disorder.” And no one knows how to treat it.

How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There's heightened functional connectivity between the brain's emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one
Subscribe Now

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