A study showing that vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV) is not linked with increased sexual activity amongst teenage girls has had wide coverage in the news today. Reports note that among parents who have decided not to have their 11- and 12-year-old girls vaccinated against the sexually transmitted, cancer-causing disease, concern that it might encourage promiscuity is a major concern.
Several studies based on self-reports have indicated this concern is misplaced, but the new study offers more robust evidence:
They selected a group of 1,398 girls who were 11 or 12 in 2006 — roughly a third of whom had received the HPV vaccine — and followed them through 2010. The researchers then looked at what they considered markers of sexual activity, including pregnancies, counseling on contraceptives, and testing for or diagnoses of sexually transmitted diseases.
Over all, in the time that the girls were followed, the researchers did not find any differences in these measures between the two groups.
If that is reassuring for some parents, it also strengthens the case of public health officials who want to see the rate of uptake of the vaccine increase, and for boys as well as girls.
However, evidence that sexual activity does not increase among young teenagers vaccinated should not alleviate concern about the general sexualization of this age group and its effects on physical and moral health. Nearly a third of children 14 to 19 years old are said to be infected with HPV. If that is correct, there is a lot to worry about that the HPV vaccine cannot address. Its very necessity shows how badly a generation of children has been let down by the collapse of social support for pre-marital chastity.