The human papillomavirus (HPV) is both the most common and perhaps the most underestimated sexually transmitted infection. The American Sexual Health Association estimates that 80 percent of sexually active men and women in the U.S. will contract HPV at some point in their lives, and despite what you may have heard, men can get cancer from HPV, too, which is why we previously recommended that everyone get the HPV vaccination.
But alas! Many parents in the U.S. are skipping out on vaccinating their children against HPV, according to a new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The study found that parents are avoiding these vaccines for several reasons:
- They think the vaccines are unsafe.
- They think the vaccines are unnecessary.
- They know nothing about HPV.
- Their physician never recommended the vaccine.
- They think their kid is refraining from sex, and therefore, has no need for the vaccine.
Excuse us while we lol at, well, most of these, but especially #5. Seriously, parents, you done fucked up: Only 50 percent of eligible females and 38 percent of eligible males completed the HPV vaccine series in 2016, and as we already know, the spread has been staggering.
“This study and its implications are disturbing mainly because a vaccine that can be critical in preventing cancers isn’t being used,” says clinical sexologist and certified sex coach Sunny Rodgers, who also serves as an ambassador for the American Sexual Health Association.
So why such a weak showing? Rodgers points to the rocky history of vaccines to help explain why some parents might be afraid to vaccinate their children. “Take a quick look at vaccines throughout history, and you’ll find that fear is a common thread,” she says. “In the mid-to-late 1800s, the smallpox vaccination induced fear among parents, because the method required that they cut the child’s skin to administer it. Meanwhile, as recently as the 1970s, anti-vaccination leagues were formed over the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) vaccines. Parents seem to not want to harm their children by having them vaccinated, but then they look to vaccines for help once their child contracts a disease.”
Now, this shouldn’t need repeating, but numerous studies have shown that the HPV vaccine is both effective and extremely safe. The FDA even concluded that most side effects are minor, and that benefits severely outweigh any drawbacks (would it help if we shouted, anti-vaxxers?)
As we also learned from the study, though, parents aren’t the only ones to blame for the lack of people getting their HPV vaccines. “It’s up to a better educational trickle-down system to get information from vaccination scientists to physicians, who can then pass education onto their patients,” Rodgers says. “I can understand parents being hesitant when their physician isn’t fully versed and can’t fully answer their questions and concerns about vaccinations — plus, the lengthy list of possible side effects that seem to accompany vaccines isn’t helping create a sense of safety either.”
Finally, Rodgers suggests that parents talk more openly with their children about sex to avoid any misconceptions about their child’s sex life, which the study shows may cause parents to ignore vaccines when they’re actually necessary. “No one wants to imagine their parents having sex, and the same goes for parents not wanting to believe that their children are having sex,” she says. “But some parents are ignoring HPV vaccines as a way to avoid talking to their children about sexual health, and perhaps in their minds, the longer they delay anything relating to sex surrounding their children, the longer their children will wait to have sex.”
In short, get your kid vaccinated early on, so they won’t have to worry about genital warts (or worse) down the road. It might not be the most comfortable conversation, but it’s a hell of a lot more comfortable than dick cancer.