Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Sexual behaviour and risk factors for the acquisition of human papillomavirus infections in young people in Italy: suggestions for future vaccination policies

Donatella Panatto1*, Daniela Amicizia1, Cecilia Trucchi1, Francesca Casabona1, Piero Luigi Lai1, Paolo Bonanni2, Sara Boccalini2, Angela Bechini2, Emilia Tiscione2, Carla Maria Zotti3, Rosa Cristina Coppola4, Giuseppina Masia4, Angelo Meloni4, Paolo Castiglia5, Andrea Piana5 and Roberto Gasparini1

Author affiliations

1 Department of Health Sciences, University of Genoa, Via Pastore, 1 16132, Genoa, Italy

2 Department of Public Health, University of Florence, Florence, Italy

3 Department of Public Health and Microbiology, University of Turin, Turin, Italy

4 Department of Public Health, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy

5 Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2012, 12:623  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-623

Published: 7 August 2012



Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. The main risk factors correlated with HPV infection are: early sexual debut, the number of partners, frequency and type of sexual contact and partner’s sexual histories.

We surveyed sexual habits among young people in order to provide information that might orient decision-makers in adopting HPV multi-cohort vaccination policies.


We administered a questionnaire to students (14–24 years old) in five Italian cities.


7298 questionnaires were analyzed (4962 females and 2336 males); 55.3% of females (95% CI 53.9–56.7) and 52.5% of males (95% CI 50.5–54.5) reported regular sexual activity. The mean age at sexual debut was 15.7 ± 1.6 and 15.6 ± 1.6 for females and males, respectively, and the median age was 16 for both sexes.

With regard to contraceptive use during the last year, 63.6% of males and 62.8% of females responded affirmatively; 42.6% of males and 42.8% of females used condoms.


The results reveal precocious sexual activity among respondents, with the mean age at first intercourse declining as age decreases. Condom use proved to be scant. Considering lifestyle-related risk factors, males appear to have a higher probability of acquiring HPV infection than females.

These data support the importance of promoting multi-cohort HPV vaccination strategies for females up to 25 years of age. It is essential to improve vaccination coverage through different broad-spectrum strategies, including campaigns to increase awareness of sexually transmitted diseases and their prevention.

Sexual behaviour; Human papillomavirus; Adolescents; Young people; HPV vaccination; Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)