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How to Talk to Your Preteen About the HPV Vaccine

​The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children get 2 ​doses of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine at ages 11 to 12, or 3 doses during the later teen years they missed getting it earlier. 

HPV can cause cancers of the mouth, throat, anus and genitals -cervix and vulva in females, penis in males - and genital warts. There are about 26,000 of these cancers each year—and most could be prevented with HPV vaccine. It is important for children to get the vaccine series before any sexual activity. The information below will help you talk with your child about the vaccine.

What do my child and I need to know about HPV?

The key facts about HPV and HPV vaccine are:

  • Certain strains of HPV cause genital warts and cancers of the cervix, mouth, throat, anus and genitals [cervix and vulva (females), penis (males)] and genital warts.

  • Receiving 2 doses of HPV vaccine before your child is exposed to the virus can prevent many cases of these cancers and genital warts.

  • HPV vaccine is recommended for boys and girls when they are 11 to 12 years old. The HPV vaccine is more effective when given at this age rather than waiting until a child is older.

  • HPV is easily spread, especially among teens and preteens – even by intimate skin-to-skin contact.

  • Most people who become infected with HPV get it within 2-3 years of their first sexual activity. 

  • Even someone who waits until marriage for sex and only has one partner can still get HPV.   

  • HPV vaccine is recommended for boys and girls when they are 11 to 12 years old. ​

Why vaccinate​ my child now—before sex is even an issue?

Pediatricians recommend HPV vaccine for preteens ages 11 to 12 because younger people have a stronger immune response to the vaccine. Preteens need 2 doses before being exposed to the virus in order to be fully protected. 

If I want my child to get the HPV vaccine, will he or she think I approve of teen sex?

A study showed that preteens and teens who got HPV vaccine did not start having sex at an earlier age than those who did not receive the vaccine. If you are concerned that your child will assume you are “giving them permission to have sex,” tell your child what’s important to you. For example: “I think you are much too young for sex, but it is important for you to be as protected as possible when the day comes. That is why you should get the HPV vaccine now.”

If I haven’t had “the sex talk” with my child, should I start now?

You do not have to discuss sex with your preteens before giving them the HPV vaccine. However, if you and your child are ready to have this conversation, now is a good time to start. Many children receive sex education in school at about age 11 or 12. When you talk about sex, share facts, feelings, and values; give your child guideance about making smart, safe choices around sex. The key is to let your children know that they can freely come to you with questions about sex. See Adolescent Sexuality: Talk the Talk Before They Walk the Walk for more information. 

Additional Information from

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2017)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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