While most experts agree Gardasil is effective for both men and women, it's not the only option. Condoms lower the chance of transferring HPV by 80 to 90 percent, says Turner, but they're not foolproof; the virus can pass through uncovered skin. And of course, limiting sexual partners can help, but one infected partner is all it takes.
Experts also generally agree that the vaccine is safe. Since Gardasil was approved for females in 2006, more than 32 million doses have been administered in the U.S. Of about 17,000 accounts of post-vaccination problems submitted to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, roughly 8 percent, or .004 percent of the total number of doses, describe issues considered serious—such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which causes muscle weakness, and blood clots in the heart, lungs, and legs—almost all of which have occurred in women. No hard evidence, however, ties these issues to the vaccine. Most side effects are minor, such as fainting and pain at the injection site. The cost might not be covered by all health insurers; if that could be a problem, it would be wise to check. The Vaccines for Children Program, funded by the federal government, provides the vaccine to eligible children 18 and younger for free if money is an issue.
Primary care physicians can walk a man or a boy's parents through the pros and cons of getting vaccinated, says Rodney Willoughby, a professor in the department of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Infectious Diseases. Don't shy away from the issue because it's controversial, he says, or because you're worried about broaching the "birds and the bees" talk; there are ways around it. Simply telling your son, "It could protect you against cancer," might be enough. Many parents and men will undoubtedly wait for word from the federal government, and that's O.K., too, Turner says. "It's certainly reasonable to wait and see if ACIP comes up with a more specific recommendation," he says. "There's no urgency."