Maternal underestimation of child's sexual experience: suggested implications for HPV vaccine uptake at recommended ages

J Adolesc Health. 2013 Nov;53(5):674-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.07.026. Epub 2013 Sep 13.


Purpose: Despite official recommendation for routine HPV vaccination of boys and girls at age 11-12 years, parents and providers are more likely to vaccinate their children/patients at older ages. Preferences for vaccinating older adolescents may be related to beliefs about an adolescent's sexual experience or perceived parental resistance to vaccinating children who are assumed to be sexually inexperienced.

Methods: Using data from the 1995 wave of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (ADD Health), a subset of a nationally representative sample of adolescents in grades 7 through 12 and their parents (n = 13,461), we investigated maternal underestimation of adolescent sexual experience.

Results: About one third (34.8%) of adolescents reported being sexually experienced and of these, 46.8% of their mothers inaccurately reported that their child was not sexually experienced. Underestimation varied by adolescent age with 78.1% of mothers of sexually active 11-13-year-olds reporting their child was not sexually active, compared with 56.4% of mothers of sexually active 14-16-year-olds and only 34.4% of mothers of 17-18-year-olds.

Conclusions: Although most adolescents are not sexually active at age 11 or 12 years, waiting until a parent thinks a child is sexually active could result in missed opportunities for prevention.

Keywords: Adolescents; HPV vaccine; Sexual behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Awareness*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health
  • Papillomavirus Vaccines / administration & dosage*
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • United States
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / psychology*


  • Papillomavirus Vaccines