Male college students are at higher risk than they think for exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV), and many have not been vaccinated against this common sexually transmitted infection, according to research by Assistant Professors Holly Fontenot and Melissa Sutherland and CSON alumnae Anna Charyk, M.S. ’13, and Heidi Collins Fantasia, M.S. ’97, Ph.D. ’09. The study appeared online in March in the Journal of American College Health.

Conducting an electronic survey of 18- to 25-year-old males attending a public university in the Northeast, the investigators found 93 percent of the 735 participants—all currently or previously sexually active—reported they were not at risk for contracting sexually transmitted infections, even though their condom use was low (51 percent used condoms sometimes or never) and their mean number of lifetime sexual partners was high (6.3).

Additionally, only 14 percent had received the three-shot vaccination against HPV, which can spread during vaginal, anal, or oral sex and cause genital warts, certain cancers, and other problems. Some students had started the vaccine series while three-quarters had not been immunized at all. (The CDC recommends HPV vaccine for all adolescents and “catch-up” vaccines for older teens and young adults.)

The research team found many survey takers lacked knowledge about HPV and the vaccine; other barriers to vaccination included cost, access, and fear of shots. The authors note that college health providers are well positioned to influence HPV vaccination rates through education, awareness, and immunization services for students.

—Research summary by Debra Bradley Ruder