Q: I've heard about the HPV vaccine for girls and am wondering if I should I have my son vaccinated as well.   Are males even at risk for contracting HPV or does the virus only affect females?

A: HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is a group of viruses, some of which can cause genital warts, a common condition that anyone who is sexually active- -regardless of gender- - is susceptible to.  The CDC estimates that 50 percent of sexually active people will become infected with genital HPV at some point in their lives.

If exposed to the HPV virus, the risks of developing cervical cancer (in females) and anal and penile cancer (in males) increases, although the risk of developing the male-specific cancers is relatively low.

The HPV vaccine that is currently available in the United States is called Gardasil and consists of a series of three shots given over a six month time period. It is approved for girls and women ages 9 to 26 but has not yet been approved for males, so having your son vaccinated right now is not an option- -but it may be soon.

Merck, the makers of Gardasil, has recently completed Phase 3 trials of the vaccine for boys, and some estimate that the vaccine will be available in the U.S. as early as 2009, so it's actually good that you are thinking about this now.

When this vaccine does become available for males, you should talk to your son's doctor about both the risks and benefits of getting vaccinated.  As with all vaccines, Gardasil does have some side effects, and it is important to note that Gardasil is not 100% effective at preventing all forms of genital warts- - so speaking with your son about safe sex is still critical.

Currently, the vaccine is not mandatory for girls and most likely won't be for boys either once it becomes available for them, which means that ultimately, the decision to vaccinate your son will be up to you.

Dr. Susan Milstein is a Certified Health Education Specialist and an AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator. She is a member of the Advisory Board for the Men's Health Network, the lead consultant for Milstein Health Consulting, and an associate professor in the Department of Health Enhancement, Exercise Science and Physical Education at the Rockville Campus of Montgomery College in Maryland.