Do You Have to Be a Virgin to Get the HPV Vaccine?

Girl getting vaccine
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It is a common misconception that you must be a virgin to get Cervarix or Gardasil, (or Gardisil 9) the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. This bit of misinformation may stem from the fact that Gardasil is most effective in women who have not already been exposed to the strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that the vaccine protects against, which are transmitted through sexual contact.

Since HPV can be spread through skin-to-skin contact and penetration isn't required to contract the virus, it can be easier to catch than some other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). And also unlike some other STD's, it can cause more problems than an infection alone.

Given the prevalence of HPV among sexually active young adults, it is best to vaccinate before the risk of exposure. But that doesn't mean that you have to be a virgin to benefit from the vaccine.

The Ideal Candidate for the Gardasil or Cervarix Vaccine

It is known that in girls and young women who are aged nine to 26, the Gardasil (or Cervarix or Gardasil 9) vaccination can help protect against two strains of HPV that cause a majority of cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancer cases. Because of its higher rates of efficacy when administered earlier on, the target age to receive the vaccine is around eleven or twelve years of age—before most young girls become sexually active. Like other vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix are meant to protect you from disease as you get older.

That said, the vaccines are FDA-approved for use in girls up to age 26. What most people don't know is that vaccination is recommended for young boys as well.

Not Just for Girls

Though only women are at risk for cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers, both men and women are at risk for contracting HPV, which is also known to be a cause of anal cancer and genital warts - diseases that both men and women can face. Gardasil has been shown to help protect against both.

Gardasil, Cervarix, and Virginity

You can certainly go ahead and get Gardasil without worrying about whether or not you are a virgin. Your doctor may inquire if you are sexually active to ensure that you are taking the proper precautions to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. But either way, you're good to go as long as you fit the other criteria for the vaccine.

What Strains of HPV Does the Vaccine Prevent?

You've likely heard that there are many different strains of the HPV virus and that not all of these cause cancer. When Gardasil was first approved in 2006, it was the only HPV vaccine available. Now that there are three different vaccines, it's helpful to understand some of the differences. All three cover the two strains of HPV most likely to cause cervical cancer, 16 and 18, which cause roughly 70 percent of cervical cancers.

HPV virus strains are divided in a few ways:

  • Low-Risk Strains: Low-risk strains do not cause cancer but they can cause genital warts. Roughly 90 percent of genital warts are caused by types 6 and 11. Warts due to HPV can occur on the genitalia, on the mouth, or in the throat. Less commonly these strains may cause respiratory papillomatosis, wart-like growths which grow in the airways between the mouth and the lungs.
  • High-Risk Strains: Infection with high-risk strains of HPV, though most of these are cleared before they become a problem, can lead to cancers of the cervix, penis, anus, vaginal wall, head and neck cancers, and possibly other cancers.

Cancer-causing vs genital wart strains of HPV:

  • Cancer-Causing Strains of HPV: Around 70 percent of cervical cancers are caused by HPV 16 an 18. Another 20 percent of cervical cancers are due to HPV 31, 33, 34, 45, 52, and 58. Most HPV-induced head and neck cancers are related to HPV 16.
  • Genital Wart Causing Strains of HPV: As noted above, 90 percent of genital warts are caused by HPV 6 and 11.

Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix

The three currently available vaccinations are:

  • Gardisil (which was approved in 2006) offers protection against HPV 6, 11, 16, and 18
  • Cervarix (approved in 2009) offers protection against HPV 16 and 18
  • Gardasil 9 (approved in 2014) offers protection against strains 6, 11, 16, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58

Here are a few thoughts to consider when deciding between Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix.

Do You Need Parental Consent to Get the HPV Vaccine?

Parental consent to receive health care, even preventative health care such as vaccines, falls under each state's legislature.

More Gardasil, Cervarix, and HPV Related Resources

Questions abound when it comes to both HPV and immunization against the virus. Below are links to many of the most common questions regarding HPV:

  • Should you wait to have sex after taking Gardasil? While you do not have to wait until all three HPV vaccinations have been injected before having sex, you will not be fully protected by the vaccine until you have completed the series.
  • Can a virgin get HPV? You may be wondering if, since HPV is considered a sexually transmitted disease, is sex necessary to contract the virus? Since genital contact can occur without penetration, it is possible for someone who has not engaged in sexual intercourse to contract HPV.
  • Your partner has HPV... now what? It's a good question. Here's how to get tested, and how to protect yourself against HPV as best you can.
  • How to prevent and reduce your risk of HPV: Get more information on abstinence, the HPV vaccine, and safe sex.
  • Can you get HPV from kissing? The jury is still out on this question. It seems from studies that 'French" kissing may raise the risk somewhat, but relative to HPV acquired from genital contact the risk is quite low.
  • Should boys receive the HPV vaccine? There are two main reasons that the HPV vaccine may be recommended for boys. The vaccine may decrease their risk for genital warts and also lower the risk that they will transmit the virus on to their partner. As we are learning that HPV causes much more than cervical cancer, for example, penile cancer and many head and neck cancers, it's thought that the HPV vaccine may lower the risk of these cancers in men as well.
  • HPV in Men: HPV does, in fact, affect men as well as women. It can cause throat cancer, anal cancer, and penile cancer, as well as genital warts. Unfortunately, it is harder to test for HPV in men.
  • Is penile cancer caused by HPV? While not all penile cancers are caused by HPV, research suggests that many probably are.

Bottom Line

There has been a lot of emotion surrounding the introduction of HPV vaccination for those who aren't yet sexually active. It's important to note, however, that most of those who are today asking if they need to be a virgin to get the HPV vaccine will be sexually active in just a short while. Whether you've never been sexually active or are a veteran, taking the time to have an honest pre-sex discussion with your partner is important for more reasons than HPV.

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Article Sources

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine Safety. Updated 10/27/15.
  • National Cancer Institute. HPV and Cancer. Updated 02/19/15.