Sexual Health Roundup: HPV Vaccinations Work, Circumcision Reduces STDs, and You Should Have More Sex Than Your Friends


Cases of Genital Warts Dive Because of Widespread Vaccination … in Australia

A new study published in the British Medical Journal looks at whether widespread vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV) in Australia has affected the rates of related health outcomes, such as genital warts. Australia launched a nationwide HPV vaccination program for women ages 12 to 26 five years ago.

To understand the impact of the program, researchers analyzed data collected from eight different sexual health service providers that together had seen over 86,000 first-time patients between 2004 and 2011. They separated the patients by time period—those seen between 2004 and mid-2007 (before the vaccinations began) and those seen from mid-2007 to 2011 (after the vaccination program was in place)—and compared rates of genital warts diagnoses. The researchers found that the number of diagnosed cases of genital warts dropped by 93 percent in young women under age 21 and by 73 percent in women ages 21 to 30. In addition, though the program did not include vaccinating males, cases of genital warts among heterosexual men under age 21 dropped almost 82 percent, while cases in heterosexual men between the ages of 21 and 30 fell by more than 59 percent.

The researchers suggest that the overwhelming success is likely due to what is known as herd immunity—the idea that if you vaccinate a large enough segment of the population, people who are not vaccinated will also be protected. In this case, by vaccinating a large number of women, men also became protected.

Basil Donovan, the lead researcher on the study, told HealthDay, “All indications are that the program has been an overwhelming success. … But we won’t be certain until HPV-related cancers [also] start dropping.”

HPV has been linked to cervical cancer, penile cancer, anal cancer, and cancers of the neck and throat. While genital warts tend to appear within a few months of initial infection with HPV, cancers can take 20 to 30 years to develop.

We could have similar success in this country if we could achieve widespread vaccination. Unfortunately, as I wrote for RH Reality Check last month, there is a great deal of misinformation about the safety and importance of the vaccine as well as why it is given at such an early age. As a result, parents still seem reluctant to get their daughters vaccinated. In fact, only 19 percent of teen girls in the United States had been vaccinated in 2008 and just 32 percent in 2011. This is far lower than the 90 percent vaccination rate the CDC recommends.

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in United States, with about 14 million new infections each year. Australia’s success suggests that with widespread vaccination, we could substantially cut that number as well as the number of people who get genital warts and possibly cervical cancer and other related cancers.  Perhaps we can take some lessons from down under in how to convince parents that this vaccine works and can potentially save lives.

New Study May Explain How Circumcision Decreases STD Risk

Recent studies have suggested that male circumcision decreases the risk for numerous STDs, including HPV and HIV. A new study in the Journal of Microbiology attempts to explain why.

Two possible explanations for these decreases include changes to the anatomy of the penis itself and changes to the bacteria that live under the foreskin or on the head of the penis. The current study used swab samples from two large-scale studies of male circumcision in Uganda. Researchers examined the types of bacteria that existed in a group of men before they were circumcised and then again a year after the procedure. They compared this to a control group of uncircumcised men.

The researchers concluded that there was a significant reduction in anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that live in areas without oxygen) among circumcised men. They theorized that in uncircumcised men, large bacterial loads encourage movement of so-called Langerhans cells in the foreskin, preventing these cells from doing their job of warding off viruses. Another theory is that more bacteria leads to inflammation, which can increase the likelihood of infection.

Ultimately, research is needed to truly understand the biology behind this, but the researchers believe that by gaining a better understanding of the bionome of the area under the foreskin, they may be able to develop non-surgical methods for changing it and preventing STD transmission.

Want to be Sexually Satisfied? Have More Sex Than Your Neighbors

A new study by a sociologist at the University of Colorado Boulder found that Americans are happier when they are having more sex—but we’re even happier if we know (or just think) we’re getting more than our friends.

The study’s author, Tim Wadsworth, analyzed data from the General Social Survey, which asks respondents whether they are “very happy,” “pretty happy,” or “not too happy.” The survey has been conducted since 1972, and in 1989 questions about sexual frequency were added. Wadsworth used data from 15,386 people who answered both questions between 1993 and 2006.

It turns out that it doesn’t take a lot of sex to make us happy, according to the study. Wadsworth found that after controlling for other factors (such as income, education, marital status, health, age, and race), respondents who were having sex at least two to three times a month were 33 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness than those who had not have sex in the past year. But more sex equals more happiness; compared to individuals who had no sex in the previous year, those who reported having sex once a week were 44 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness, and those reporting sex two to three times a week were 55 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness.

But there is a catch: The happiness rate can fall if you think that other people are having more sex than you. The research found, for example, that if members of a peer group are having sex two to three times a month but believe their peers are having it once a week, their probability of reporting a higher level of happiness falls by about 14 percent. The research doesn’t prove that people are comparing themselves to others (or explain how people form their perceptions of how often the neighbors are doing it), but Wadsworth notes this behavior makes sense because we are constantly comparing ourselves to others, especially those we think have more. “We’re usually not looking down and therefore thinking of ourselves as better off, but we’re usually looking up and therefore feeling insufficient and inadequate,” he wrote.

So the key to happiness is to either have more sex, or convince your friends to have less.

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  • Ellen Mary

    I can’t believe this website which is ProChoice is also so consistently ProCirc. Actually Circ can only even theoretically reduce woman to man transmission, the least likely route. Some researchers claim that woman to man transmission is more likely in Africa, but that is really unbelievable when you understand that homosexuality is ILLEGAL in much of Africa, which would inevitably lead to under-reporting of man to man transmission . . .

    • http://www.facebook.com/Feral.9.Hex Carla Clark

      Yeah, I definitely agree with you, Ellen. I am anti-circ, Pro-Choice, Which is the only way to believe, I think.

  • Mark

    It is so ridiculously arrogant for people to discuss
    the pros and cons of something for which I had no say
    over – my own body.

    

Further, how can any journalist not
 quote the source of
    these “studies”. Who funded them
and how were they done?
    Were they only done on the glans (like the faulty HPV study),

    or the whole genital area?



    What about whole nations like Germany, Scandinavia
    and the UK who don’t circumcise – why aren’t they not
    affected by higher transmission rates? Why do men (and their
    partners) there seem happier?

    Pro-circumcision people never consider the immense sense of
    
resentment within men for the rest of their lives. I am on a forum
    for restoring foreskins and I can tell you we never really escape
    the inconsolable pain, anger and depression. The sense of betrayal,
    of not being able to feel “whole”(which no none who hasn’t been genitally
    mutilated will understand). Not being able to orgasm properly, watching

    how our partners cannot either. Sex is turned into a rough pounding
    never-ending session, when it is meant to be a gentle one (with intact men).

    
Instead of curbing masturbation, as John Harvey Kellogg intended, it only makes


    it worse.

    Men become emotionally detached. Intimacy between partners
    stunted – due to lack of sensation (for both partners), psychological

    and emotional factors. We try to live in denial, but age takes away what

    little feeling we ever had.

    Before you throw in a bit of this and that, ending off with some haha


    sex jokey paragraph, consider how infants are strapped, the foreskin 
ripped

    off their glans and then cut. The screams count for nought, the pain 
often not

    anesthetized. Consider the scarring that occurs and the botched mutilations too.

    If the foreskin contains 20 000 nerve endings and is, together with the frenulum – also
    often amputated – the erogenous equivalent of the clitoris (which incidentally “only” has
    8 000)…. how would you feel if this was done to you?