Sex and the Ivy

Why I Won’t Shut Up About Having HPV

Filed under: Sex — Elle September 17, 2009 @ 10:23 pm

In case you haven’t heard, my pap smear came back abnormal. I’d be surprised, actually, if you haven’t heard considering that I’ve been practically shouting this fact from rooftops. (I first mentioned it on Twitter and later on this blog). Probable cause of the funky stuff going on down there? HPV.

Which means that I have a STI. That’s not so surprising, given that nearly 80 percent of sexually active adults will contract HPV at some point, nor is it cause for concern, since most cases clear up on their own. And yet … when I realized I couldn’t get my IUD last week because of the abnormal pap, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of shame. As if having a STI were something to be ashamed of. “What am I going to tweet?” I wondered in a panic. “What will my followers think?!”

Luckily, I’m not that indoctrinated that I’m ready to slap on a scarlet D for “diseasemonger”. But I’m not naive. I know that there are people who do view STIs as “shameful” (especially when you’re talking about more serious ones), but that’s a viewpoint that makes zero sense to me. No one would ever view leukemia as something to be ashamed of, nor would you blame a smoker for getting lung cancer, so why is there a tendency to blame individuals who have STIs? When it comes to something as common as HPV, everyone who has ever had sex in the world is accountable, meaning that someone had to give it to your partner who gave it to you who very well may have given it to someone else. That doesn’t make any of the above parties bad or irresponsible people. Because there are often no symptoms, not everyone knows whether they’re a HPV carrier. HPV testing is also not common, given that signs of infection are usually found through pap smears and often disappear on their own.

I’m sure I have plenty of followers on Twitter who cringed through my live-tweeting of my last two gynecology appointments (though I haven’t checked to see if my follower count is actually down). To some extent, I’m self-conscious about sharing too much, but I also feel comfortable enough with my body (and its failings) that I don’t mind talking about processes (pap smears, colposcopies, whatever) that are mostly shrouded in mystery. Is this an exercise in demystifying/destigmatizing sexuality? Abso-fucking-lutely, though I’d still be tweeting it even with zero followers. I’m sure some folks would consider all my cervix talk a major “overshare”, but there’s no reason why most discussion about STIs is only in the abstract. Pretty much everyone has HPV, so why can’t we discuss it and other STIs like we (and our friends) are potential carriers?