The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

Yes, it’s strong enough for a man

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is the new sex ed. It’s the latest front in the heated discussion on adolescent sexuality, challenged by the same denial and fear about teen sex.

About two weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pushed the envelope a little further, announcing its recommendation for routine HPV vaccination not just in 11- to- 12-year-old girls, but in boys as well.

The recommendation might seem misplaced, as HPV-associated cervical cancer is not a direct health concern in the male population.

However, recent studies have found an association of HPV with more than just cervical cancer. In addition to causing genital warts in both men and women, HPV has been linked to 7,000 cases of cancer per year in men. These include mostly head and neck cancers, as well as penile and anal cancers. So there does exist a burden of disease in men, and they should be protected by vaccination the same as women.

There is also a burden of responsibility. Men who carry HPV can transmit it to their sexual partners, so from a public health perspective, men should be vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of infection to others.

The decision comes after a report of “disappointing (HPV vaccination) uptake” of 32 percent among teenage girls. It is precisely in this environment of low uptake that routine vaccination in boys will be most helpful. Some even hope that the recommendation will increase uptake of the vaccine universally.

Like before, a backlash is to be expected. Concerns have been raised and refuted over the cost and risks, but one aspect that sets this vaccine apart is its implications for adolescent sexuality.

Despite what some of us believe or want to believe, teenagers are having sex. In a 2008 study, half had engaged in vaginal or oral sex, and one in 10 had engaged in anal sex.

The importance of the 11 to 12 age recommendation lies in the fact that the vaccine is most effective before exposure to HPV – that is, before sexual activity. The recommendation does not say that children age 11 to 12 are having sex, but it reflects the reality that many of them will be when they are teenagers or young adults.

And at least half of sexually active people will be exposed to HPV at some point in their lives.

Some might claim that giving the vaccine promotes risky sexual activity in teenagers, but there has not been evidence yet to support this. In fact, in a 2009 study, 79 percent of girls said that “vaccination reminded them of the risks of sexual contact.”

I applaud the CDC for expanding its recommendation, and I urge everyone to consider vaccination for themselves. The HPV vaccine is approved for men and women age 9 to 26, and you can get vaccinated at Campus Health Services through most insurance carriers. Though the vaccine does not cure previous infections, HPV usually clears from the body in a couple of years, and you will be protected for the future.

Come on, everybody’s doing it.

At least I hope they will.

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