HPV is a really, REALLY common STD. In fact, it’s so common that most people will get it at some point in their lives. While that sounds a bit scary, it’s usually not that big of a deal. Most of the time, your body can fight it off and make it go away on its own. And to help your body out, there’s the HPV vaccine, a shot that protects you against certain, more serious types of HPV.
While a lot of teens get the HPV vaccine, not too many teens know too much about it. Let’s clear up some myths.
Myth #1: It’s only for people who have sex.
Fact: The HPV vaccine works best if it’s given a chance to develop an immune response in your body. That takes time. That’s why it’s recommended for teens and preteens, long before they are even thinking about sex.
Myth #2: It’s just for girls.
Fact: The HPV vaccine is for girls – and guys. A lot of people know that the vaccine can prevent cervical cancer in girls, which is sometimes brought on by HPV. But the truth is, the vaccine can also prevent both girls and guys from getting other HPV-related cancers, such as throat and anal cancers, as well as genital warts, really easy-to-spread skin growths.
Myth #3: It makes you more likely to have sex.
Fact: Some people think the vaccine gives teens the freedom to have sex – or worse, unprotected sex.
“That’s like saying that if you get the tetanus vaccine, you’re more likely to go and step on rusty nails on purpose.” –Joyce, 18 years old, Sex, Etc.
In other words, the HPV vaccine is cancer prevention; it doesn’t make you any more or less likely to have sex. Besides, the vaccine protects against certain types of one STD, in this case HPV. It does not protect against others, such as Chlamydia. That’s why it’s a good idea to practice abstinence and safe sex whether you got the vaccine or not.
Myth #4: I don’t need it if I wear condoms.
Fact: Condoms are great at protecting you from STDs like Chlamydia and HIV, but they don’t always protect you from HPV. HPV can be spread through genital-to-genital contact, and condoms and dental dams only cover part of the genitals. (That’s part of the reason why so many people get it!) So you should probably get the HPV vaccine, even if you plan on using condoms.
Most girls and a lot of guys are vaccinated when they are 11 or 12. If you’re not sure if you had the HPV vaccine to prevent cancers and genital warts, ask your parent or doctor about the HPV vaccine. After all, taking care of your health is an important part of being a teen.