Originally Published: Jun 21, 2012
Revised: Jun 25, 2012
I was confused when I first heard that Gardasil, a vaccine that protects against certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), was being recommended for guys. Of course I had heard of Gardasil before. But in my mind it was only a vaccine—three painful shots that girls got to prevent cervical cancer, which can be caused by certain strains of HPV. So I began to wonder, why on earth would guys want to get these shots, too?
I soon learned that HPV can cause not only cervical cancer, but also rare cancers, like vulvar, vaginal and penile cancers, as well as genital warts. Then it began to make sense to me. Gardasil was also for guys because it reduces the likelihood that you will pass HPV to your partner while also protecting against genital warts, which affect both males and females.
But even with these beneficial effects, I was wary of the idea. I hadn’t heard of any guys I knew getting the vaccine. My doctor had never suggested it to me, even though he told my sister that she should get it. So, I began to ask around to find out if anyone had recommended to the guys I knew that they get the vaccine. I found no one. When I asked guys if they had ever thought about getting the vaccine, they either responded that they had never been told about it or were shocked that I was asking if they had gotten a “vaccine for girls who are having sex.”
I realized then that a stigma surrounds Gardasil. It’s recommended that the vaccine be administered between the ages of 11 and 12 to ensure that teens have received it before becoming sexually active, since it only protects against future infections and does not cure current infections. (The vaccine can be prescribed up until the age of 26 and can be given to people as young as nine.) Though the vaccine should be given before teens become sexually active, people continue to think it’s for girls who are having sex, which just isn’t true. But this reputation may make guys disinclined to consider getting the vaccine themselves.
I will admit that I initially fell into this uninformed group. But when I learned that the vaccine would protect me from getting or spreading certain types of HPV that cause cancer and genital warts, my opinion immediately changed.
You might feel a little embarrassed at first asking your doctor about a vaccine that has become popular because of its use to prevent cervical cancer, but the benefits far outweigh this moment of embarrassment. It’s also not fair to assume that if you have a female partner, she has gotten the vaccine and won’t be at risk if you’re a carrier of an HPV strain. While some people who are infected with HPV from a previous sexual partner show symptoms such as genital warts, many others simply carry the virus without any visible signs. These carriers may not even know that they have HPV, which puts all of their partners at a greater risk. Getting the vaccine ensures that if you are exposed to certain HPV strains your body has the ability to fight them off and prevent infection.
Relationships are two-way streets and just as guys shouldn’t be the only ones carrying condoms, girls shouldn’t be the only ones expected to make sure they are protected against certain strains of HPV. It’s also not a smart idea to rely entirely on someone else’s claim that they have received the vaccine, and that way they can’t pass anything on to you. What if they never actually got the vaccine or got it too late? Wouldn’t you prefer to know that you are definitely protected? I know I would.
Make an effort to learn the facts about HPV and the vaccine. Tell your friends all about it. If your doctor hasn’t suggested it to you yet, bring it up and see what she or he has to say. You should never be ashamed about making sure that your body is healthy.