Researchers say they haven't found any evidence that vaccinating girls against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, encourages them to start having sex.
According to a study published today in the journal Pediatrics, girls who received the HPV shot at 11 or 12 were no more likely to have inquired about birth control, been tested for sexually transmitted infections or gotten pregnant by age 14 or 15 than girls who hadn't been vaccinated. The findings were based on the medical records of nearly 1,400 girls in Atlanta, around 500 of whom had received the HPV vaccine and around 900 who had gotten vaccines for other, nonsexually transmitted diseases. The rate of each outcome was identical in both groups.
What's especially significant is that the study was the first to look at clinical data rather than relying on participants to report their sexual activity. Researchers said they hoped their findings would finally reassure the public that receiving the HPV vaccine won't lead to promiscuity, as some parents and religious groups have argued, according to NBC News.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that both boys and girls routinely receive HPV shots from age 11 or 12, the idea being to build up an immunity well before they start having sex.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S., with at least half of all sexually active people contracting it. The virus can cause cancers of the vagina, cervix, vulva, anus, penis and back of the throat, as well as genital warts. It has also been linked to heart disease in women.