Why does my doctor want me to get the HPV shot? I thought it was for girls.

Great question! It’s understandable that you’d think the HPV vaccine is only for girls, but it’s actually for people of all genders. Here’s why.

For those not familiar with it, human papillomavirus (HPV) is an incredibly common virus that is spread through sexual contact. There are over 200 different types (or strains) of HPV. Some can cause cancer or genital warts. Others don’t cause any health issues and go away on their own after a few weeks. Almost everyone who has sex will get HPV at some point in their lives. But since it often doesn’t cause any symptoms, most people don’t even realize they have it.

At first, the HPV vaccine was only recommended for girls. This is because HPV used to be mostly associated with cervical cancer (which people with a penis can’t get, since they don’t have a cervix). But HPV can actually also lead to cancers of the penis, anus, mouth, throat, vulva and vagina. Genital warts (small bumps around your genitals) can also be caused by HPV.

This means that it’s important for people of ALL genders to get the HPV vaccine.

Plus, when more people are vaccinated against HPV, the virus is spread less often. This means that by getting vaccinated, you’re protecting others who didn’t get the vaccine themselves!

Now, the HPV vaccine (sometimes called by its brand name, Gardasil) is recommended to everyone, regardless of gender, when they’re 11-12 years old. If you get the vaccine before you turn 14 years old, you only need two shots to be fully vaccinated. However, if you get vaccinated older than that, you’ll need three shots. This means it’s a good idea to get vaccinated now, instead of putting it off!

Currently, the HPV vaccine protects against nine of the most common HPV strains. Health insurance, including Medicaid, will usually cover the vaccine.

If you’re 10-22 years old in NYC, you can get the HPV vaccine and other comprehensive, confidential health care at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for free. No immigration restrictions, no insurance needed.

Want to know more about HPV? Here are 8 Things We’ve Learned from our 10-Year HPV Study.