While all STDs are serious, HPV might be the most important for young college women to know about. HPV is the most common STD in the U.S. today and a reported 5.5 million new cases are diagnosed each year. 20 million Americans already have it and most have no idea!
As you very well know by now, HPV is much more than just a few genital warts; it can lead to cervical cancer if left un-treated!
OB/GYN Dr. Lissa Rankin is passionate about educating women about and protecting women against HPV. She shared the following information with us:
Do you guys all know about HPV? It’s the Human PapillomaVirus, the virus that causes genital warts, abnormal pap smears, and cervical cancer. If it helps you remember it (or maybe just if it makes you laugh) call it Hot Pox of the Va Jay Jay. Whatever you call it, it’s important to fully comprehend the scope of this sexually transmitted disease, since, unless you vaccinate yourself, 75% of you will get it before the age of 50, if you haven’t already. Do ya hear me? 75%!!
Because HPV is a virus, there’s no real cure the way there is for most bacteria. Chlamydia, for example, requires only one dose of an antibiotic to cure it. But antibiotics don’t work for viruses. It’s basically up to your immune system to try to fight it. Sometimes the immune system wins and the virus goes away. Other times, the HPV is too strong, and BOOM. There it is. Cauliflower crotch. But warts are small potatoes as far as HPV goes; HPV can also cause abnormal pap smears, which, left untreated, can become cervical cancer.
Usually, it all starts with an abnormal pap smear, caused most commonly by HPV types 16 and 18. This is the type guys can give you which doesn’t cause a flippin’ thing for them. That’s why it’s SO important to get pap smears regularly. As long as you get your pap smear once a year, you shouldn’t ever get cancer, since we can treat it before it goes that far.
HPV is extremely infectious, with a transmission rate of 26% after a single unprotected sexual encounter. (If you use a condom, it’s safer, but it still doesn’t completely protect you). And with so many people carrying it, all it takes is one episode of intercourse. Now, that is a lot of information, so to help sort through the muddle, I’d like to debunk some myths about HPV.
Myth #1: Good girls don’t get HPV.
While most cases of HPV are sexually transmitted, even virgins can get HPV. How can that be? Because infected people shed the HPV virus from their genital region, so if your genitals are touching your partner’s genitals, you can catch the infection, even if you’re not having intercourse. So unless you’re both virgins who have never even fooled around with someone else, you can get HPV.
Myth #2: Condoms protect you from HPV.
While using condoms significantly decreases the risk of catching HPV, it doesn’t completely protect you. Since condoms only cover the skin of the penis, your girly parts can still come into contact with your partner’s testicles and surrounding skin, which can shed the HPV virus and cause transmission.
Myth #3: Men know if they have HPV.
While men who carry the strains that cause genital warts may know they carry HPV, many male HPV carriers have never had genital warts or any other symptoms. Also, because the strains of HPV that cause abnormal pap smears and cervical cancer do not cause problems for men, most men do not know they carry it. Which means they’re passing it around from woman to woman, like a nasty-ass beach ball. You gotta wonder when the guys says, “Oh, that’s so weird. ALL my girlfriends have had abnormal pap smears.” Duh, dude. It’s you! In the future, pending further study, the HPV vaccine may be available for boys too.
Myth #4: If your partner tested negative for sexually transmitted diseases, your partner doesn’t have HPV.
Most standard testing for STDs tests for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B & C, and sometimes herpes. HPV is not routinely tested, even in women, unless a pap smear is abnormal.
Myth #5: If I get HPV, it will go away on its own.
While HPV can resolve spontaneously, it’s up to your immune system. If your immune systems fights it, it may go away. If not, HPV can take over, leading to warts, abnormal pap smears, and, if left untreated, cervical cancer.
Myth #6: I can’t get HPV if I’m only having oral sex.
If you aren’t rubbing your genitals together at all and only having oral sex, your risk is low. But some evidence suggests that HPV can infect the mouth and increase your risk of getting oral cancers later in life. Using condoms (for going down on a guy) and dental dams (for going down on a girl) may help reduce this risk.
Myth #7: Lesbians can’t get HPV.
Oh yes they can! While lesbian sex is less risky than guy-on-girl sex, it’s still possible to get genital warts or abnormal pap smears from genital-to-genital contact when one partner is shedding the HPV virus.