What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I found out I had HPV about two years ago. My pap smear came back abnormal, which was one of the more horrifying phone calls I've ever gotten (and this is coming from a girl who got chlyamadia when she was 18 due to a threesome with a homeless guy and his girlfriend gone amiss, but that's a story for another time). I had to go back in, where the doctor performed a HPV test.
There are three different ways to test for HPV: a colposcopy, the Schiller Test, and a biopsy of your cervical tissue. I got a biopsy. I don't really remember it except that I had to go in a different room than I normally get checked up in, it hurt, I think I cried a little, then I went on my merry little way until the doctor called and told me I had HPV.
I had no idea what it was at the time. Also, I had gotten the controversial vaccine, Gardasil, when I was 15 and became sexually active. (The recommended age for the vaccine is 11-13, but you can get it from ages 9-26) Sure, in my youth I may have been a bit of a reckless whore, but as far as I knew then, my vagina was happy and healthy. I had no idea I had it, because often HPV causes no symptoms.
The thing was, my gyno couldn't have been more nonchalant about it. I think he gave me a pamphlet and told me not to worry. My gyno is the same doctor who delivered me as a baby, so he has seen this vagina since day one and I like to think he has it's best interests in mind.
I was very concerned, but he told me not to be. He said I had a very mild case (low-risk, as opposed to high-risk, which is when your are at risk for cancer), and if I ALWAYS had sex with a condom it would most likely heal itself on its own. According to him, I had nothing to worry about.
And I don't worry about it. "Anyone who is having (or has ever had) sex can get HPV. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women get it at some point in their lives. This is true even for people who only have sex with one person in their lifetime." says cdc.gov.
There are over 100 types of HPV, 40 of which are sexually transmitted strains HPV. If you get warts on your hand, that's a type of HPV. Some strains of HPV cause genital warts (treatable, removable, common), some strains cause cervical cancer (and rarely other cancers of the vulva, vagina, or penis) and throat conditions, like Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP). We heard about it with Michael Douglas, as well as with Marci of xovain.com's father. BUT since there are so many different strains, the same type that gives you genital warts does not cause cancer. Luckily for me, I have not had genital warts and am not at risk for cancer.
Genital warts sometimes go away on their own. Sometimes they don't, and they spread. It's best to always go to your doctor with ANY concerns when your genitals are involved, as a rule (and you know, have the luxury of healthcare and insurance). If you do have warts, you'll see them around your vagina (inside), on the vulva (your lips), your groin area, or in/around your b-hole. If you're a man, you will see them on your peen, scrotum, thigh/groin area, or once again, the b-hole region.
Warts can also grow in the mouth/throat of an infected person (this is very rare). Warts will look like warts you've seen before, maybe smaller, flat, bumpy or cauliflower looking, and they might itch. There are creams you can use at home to get rid of them, or your doctor can burn them off, laser them off, freeze them off, or cut them off. It's okay; 360,000 Americans get genital warts each year. And, the warts are NOT cancerous, but they are contagious.
I still have HPV. It has not yet gone away, as my doctor said it probably would, because at my last check-up, the abnormal pap smear was back, and looked exactly as it had a year before. It hadn't gotten worse, but it was still there.
If you're like me and have HPV, you aren't alone. Some statistics that put things in perspective are that about 79 MILLION Americans are infected with HPV. HPV.com says, "according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately 6 million new genital HPV disease cases in the United States each year. An estimated 74% of them occur in 15- to 24-year-olds. That's about 12,000 teens and young adults each day."
HPV lives in the skin, as opposed to the blood, so there are strains of HPV that cause not just genital warts, but all warts, like on your hands or planters warts (which are a real bitch to remove, let me tell you).
Smoking and alcohol put you at a higher risk of pretty much everything bad, and cancers that are HPV-related are no exception. SUCKS FOR THOSE OF US WHO LIKE TO HAVE FUN. Condoms help prevent HPV but the only way to ensure you won't get it is to be a virgin forever or not have sex.
What really sucks is that right now there is NO HPV TEST FOR MEN. So any dude you let lick and/or poke your parts could have it, and neither of you will know for sure. Also, you could get a pap smear, it could come back normal, and you might still have HPV. HPV is a sneaky little bastard that might hide out for years, maybe NEVER rearing it's slutty face to a pap test. (I'm not calling you, dear reader, a slut for having HPV. I'm calling HPV a slut because damn does that dude get around…)
If you have HPV and have questions about your health, HPV, or genital warts, below are some different places you can contact with your questions. (List complied thanks to womenshealth.gov). Also, if you have HPV, I hope you don't feel alone, or ashamed, and if you do, that this article helped a little bit.
Phone: 800-227-2345 (TDD: 866-228-4327)
Phone: 919-361-8488 or 919-361-8400
Phone: 800-323-4636 (TDD: 888-232-6348)
Phone: 800-232-4636 (TDD: 888-232-6348)
Phone: 866-284-4107 or 301-496-5717 (TDD: 800-877-8339)