Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection worldwide. On average, 80% of sexually active women and 90% of sexually active men will contract some form of HPV in their lifetime. While some cases of HPV do not lead to serious health complications, other cases can cause cancers of the cervix, anus, or throat.
Yet, HPV and the HPV vaccine are often dismissed in the Arab World because our culture is deemed to have “less risky sexual behavior” than, for example, Western cultures. But as OBGYN Dr. Deemah Salem explains, "Our culture and religion are not immune to the virus."
Let’s explore the truth around some of the most common myths relating to HPV and the vaccine.
Myth: HPV is rare.
Fact: HPV causes virtually all cases of cervical cancer and it is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide. Approximately every 20 minutes, someone is diagnosed with cancer caused by HPV.
Myth: HPV can’t be transmitted without full penetration.
Fact: HPV is sexually transmitted and can be transmitted even by genital-to-genital touch without full penetration.
Myth: Only girls get HPV.
Fact: Boys and men get HPV, too. The only difference is that there is currently no way to test if they have it. HPV can cause cancers for men in the anus, neck, and head and they can spread the virus unknowingly. This is why more doctors are recommending that parents vaccinate their boys too to avoid them getting and spreading HPV.
Myth: You need to be sexually active to take the HPV vaccine.
Fact: The HPV vaccine works best between the ages of 9 and 12. The point of vaccines is to help prevent diseases, so it's more effective to get vaccinated before sexual activity. Furthermore, the body produces more antibodies to HPV when the vaccine is given at a younger age. That being said, if you're between 27 to 45 years old, you could still be a candidate for the vaccine and should discuss this with your doctor.
Myth: You don't need to get the vaccine if you're planning on only being with one person.
Fact: The truth of the matter is that you can't predict what your (or your children's) future will look like. You may marry someone who has been sexually active before, you may get divorced, one or both partners could have an affair — life happens. It's better to protect yourself (and your children) from the potential risks of infection.
Myth: The HPV vaccine will encourage children to have sex.
Fact: There is no evidence or research that giving the HPV vaccine is linked with higher sexual activity.
Myth: The HPV vaccine can lead to infertility.
Fact: On the contrary, the HPV vaccine can actually help protect fertility by preventing gynecological problems related to the treatment of cervical cancer. It’s possible that the treatment of cervical cancer could leave women unable to have children.
Myth: The HPV vaccine doesn't protect against enough strains of human papillomavirus to be worth getting.
Fact: The current HPV vaccination protects against nine types of HPV. These nine have been linked to more than 90% of genital warts cases and 90% of cervical cancers.
Myth: If I've been vaccinated I don't need to do regular Pap smears.
Fact: The HPV vaccine doesn't replace routine Pap tests. You should still get your routine screening for cervical cancer through regular Pap tests beginning at age 21, as an essential form of preventive healthcare.
Our protection is our responsibility, and it all starts with access to science-backed, accurate information.
HPV facts: HPV vaccine facts: How long is the HPV vaccine good for? HPV Facts | HPV Vaccine Facts | How Long is the HPV Vaccine Good For? Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/infectious-agents/hpv/hpv-vaccine-facts-and-fears.html.
6 Myths About HPV Vaccine Dispelled | Pennmedicine.org. Available at: https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/womens-health/2016/july/6-myths-about-the-hpv-vaccine.
HPV vaccination: What everyone should know (2021) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/hpv/public/index.html.
7 myths about the HPV vaccine: HPV vaccine facts and the science behind them: SBM (no date) Society of Behavioral Medicine. Available at: https://www.sbm.org/healthy-living/7-hpv-vaccine-myths (Accessed: 06 July 2023).