If you could vaccinate your kids against cancer, wouldn't you do it? The answer may sound obvious. But we can vaccinate our kids against some vicious types of cancer -- and many parents are deliberately choosing not to.
Why? Because the cancers involved -- of the cervix, head, neck, vagina, and penis -- can be caused by a sexually transmitted disease called human papillomavirus (HPV). And some parents have a better idea for how their kids can avoid that disease: sexual abstinence until marriage. They also fear that the vaccine may promote promiscuity by removing one deterrent.
They're right that abstinence is a surefire protection. But it's not very smart to say that kids who lapse from that ideal should be exposed to potentially fatal consequences. And even limiting sex to a marital partner is no guarantee -- if the partner has had other partners. As it is, by the way, nearly one-third of teens kids age 14 to 19 already have HPV.
That's grounds for alarm. And a new study of 2,000 girls, half of whom got the vaccine and half of whom didn't, should dispel the fear that getting the vaccine will encourage teenage girls to have sex. The researchers report that those getting it showed "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."
The vaccine is now available for boys as well, and it's reasonable to assume that it won't increase their propensity for adolescent sex -- any more than airbags cause motorists to drive more recklessly. Parents have good reason to urge their adolescent children not to have sex. But when the consequences of a mistake can be so devastating, it's also smart to have a backup plan.
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