HPV: Human Papi-What?

By Sophie Dila

Attention, frisky Beforeplayers! If you are getting busy between the sheets, chances are that at one point or another, you may have an experience with HPV. Human Papillomavirus. It’s the #1 most common STI around, and most men and women who are sexually active will get it at some point in their lifetimes. Beforeplay.org is here for you to get some facts to keep you safe in the bedroom, or wherever you’re getting busy, so listen up.

Here’s the low down. HPV is spread very easily. There are more than 100 strains of HPV, most of which have no symptoms. In fact, the virus can be passed just by intimate touching or sharing sex toys, and without even having actual sex. It’s known as the “common cold” in the sexual health world! There’s no test for these viruses (unlike a lot of other STIs), and there is no cure – but your body will usually clear many HPV infections on its own.

But some strains of HPV cause genital warts and cervical cancer, along with cancers of the vagina, penis, anus and throat. (We just wanted to mention here that some studies show that using IUDs as your birth control can also help reduce the risk of cervical cancer – so that might be something else to think about when you’re choosing what’s next.) Unfortunately, the types of HPV that can cause cancer do not show any signs. Yikes, right? Not so fast…

We have good news. There are active steps that you can take to keep yourself safe and wart and cancer-free.

  • Get vaccinated. A vaccine prevents against the health problems, including cancers, caused by HPV. Health professionals recommend that all girls and boys ages 11-12 get the HPV vaccine to prevent getting the virus. If you didn’t get the vaccine when you were younger, catch-up vaccines are recommended for men through age 21 and women through age 26. Bonus: the cost is likely covered by your health insurance.
  • Get screened. Ladies, get your pap smears! Pap smears help detect and prevent cervical cancer. It’s recommended that you start getting Paps when you turn 21. If you are 30 or older, you may also choose to have an HPV test along with your regular Pap.
  • Use condoms and dental dams. Use them consistently and correctly. Every single time. This can decrease your chances of getting HPV. But remember, HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact, so they aren’t perfect protection.
  • Just talk about it! Find out if your partner is monogamous with you, and talk about ways you can play it safe. Communicating openly with your partner can help ease your stress about STIs, including HPV, allowing you to enjoy a healthier, happier sex life.

Have more questions? Check out the CDC’s fact sheet or make an appointment to talk to a knowledgeable professional and/or get your HPV vaccination or Pap smear. Our health center locator can help you find one near you.