Behind the Headlines: Will HPV jab change sexual behaviour?

Having the HPV jab to protect against cervical cancer could make girls more promiscuous, media reports suggest.

HPV jab girls: cautious about sex
HPV jab girls: cautious about sex

The findings come from the first survey to focus on girls' views of the vaccine rather than responses from their parents.

Researchers from the University of Manchester sent a questionnaire to 1,084 parents who had consented to take part in the study. The parents were asked to pass on the questionnaire to their daughters.

The girls, aged 12 to 13, had been offered three doses of the Cervarix vaccine between October 2007 and September 2008. A total of 553 girls completed the questionnaire, although 77 per cent reported that they had shared their decisions with their parents.

What do girls think of the jab?
Most girls (79 per cent) believed that having the HPV jab made them more aware of the risks of sexual contact.

One in seven girls said that they might take more sexual risks because they had been vaccinated against HPV.

Additionally, of girls whose parents refused the jabs, 42 per cent said that they wanted to be vaccinated.

Lead researcher Dr Loretta Brabin, commented: 'Interestingly, media suggestions that the vaccine could make girls more likely to start having sex at a younger age had not affected them. In fact, the vaccine actually made them more aware of the risks of sex.

'The thing that put girls off the most was fear of needles and how much it would hurt.'

Some girls had also heard rumours about side-effects, which had filtered down from the media and their parents and had been exaggerated along the way, said Dr Brabin.

What do other researchers say?
Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: 'Despite the scare stories, this research suggests that the HPV vaccine could make the majority of girls more cautious about sex.

'The HPV vaccine is an important step towards preventing cervical cancer in the UK but it will only be truly successful if uptake is high.'

It is important that girls also receive appropriate sex education so that they're all aware of the risks of sex, said Dr Walker.

Informing patients

  • Most girls believe that having the HPV jab would make them more cautious about sex.
  • Only one in seven girls thinks that the jab will make them more promiscuous.
  • Girls were most likely to be put off having the jab through the fear of needles.

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