It was my junior year in college. I hadn’t had my “hoe phase” yet, but I was definitely sexually active. During my winter break, I received a letter from my gynecologist. I was hesitant to open it because I thought it was a bill, but it was actually a document notifying me that I had HPV (Human Papillomavirus). The news hit me hard because I was consoling a friend on campus who found out she had HPV two weeks prior (talk about foreshadowing). When I called my gynecologist to inquire about the virus, I reached a non-compassionate customer service rep who dryly said HPV is common and mentioned I should schedule a follow-up. I didn’t.
Instead, I went to my local Planned Parenthood and spoke with the LPN on my college campus. That was five years ago. While those conversations were hard, few things have been as challenging as sharing the news with each and every new sex partner. I get a lot of eyebrow raises because they hear “HIV” at first. But once I correct them, there are many questions. “How do you know all this information?” “Why isn’t this spoken about in detail?” Today, I’m still learning new things about HPV and educating my sex partners about the virus.
Since the weather is getting warmer and many of us are shooting our shots this summer, here are eight facts you need to know about HPV to keep you and your partners as safe as possible.
1HPV is the most common STI in the United States
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV.
2You can get HPV even if you wear a condom.
Although using condoms can reduce the chances of getting HPV, the virus can infect areas not covered by a condom.
3 HPV can cause cancer in multiple areas of the body.
HPV can cause cervical and oral cancer. It can also cause cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, and anus.
4You can still get HPV if you received the Gardasil shot.
The Gardasil shot primarily protects people against the most common cancer causing strands, including HPV Types 16, 18 31 and 33. There is also another shot, Cervarix, which protects against HPV Type 16 and 18.
5 There are three pre-cancer stages of HPV.
Your doctor will determine whether your HPV strand is benign, cancerous or precancerous. The stages of precancer (dysplasia) are called CIN. CIN 1 (Mild Dysplasia) can be treated by freezing a woman’s cervix. CIN 2 (Moderate Dysplasia) can be treated by scrapping the affected area. CIN 3 (Severe Dysplasia) can be treated by removing a piece of the affected area.
6 Men can get tested for HPV.
While women can get tested during their PAP exams, men aren’t able to get tested through their genitals. However, men can get tested orally, and men who have same-sex partners can get tested anally.
7 Not all HPV strands are cancerous.
There are 110 HPV strands, and not all are cancerous. If you’re diagnosed with HPV, schedule an annual check-up to monitor it. If you don’t have HPV, you can get tested every three years. This may differ if you are under 21 years old.
8 Most people don’t know they have HPV.
Most people with HPV don’t know they have it because it can go away on its own and there are typically little to no symptoms. People commonly find out if they develop genital warts, are in the pre-cancer stages or have cancer.
Although contracting HPV was a shock, the experience helped me learn more about my body and how to have tough conversations in my relationships (and situationships). If you want to learn more about HPV, visit Centers for Disease Control’s website. If you’re interested in learning about groups doing research on HPV and other STIs, check out our stories about WhiteCoats4BlackLives and the Morehouse School of Medicine.