Where do I get birth control and which one should I get? What does an orgasm feel like? How the hell do you do butt stuff? We answer all these questions in our new column about sex. Say hello to The Big O.
By Trisha O’Bannon
If you’re reading this and you’ve had sex, you probably have HPV.
Don’t freak out just yet! By the end of this article, you’ll know everything you need to know about the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the general name for over a hundred virus strains, but only around 30 or so affect the genital area. HPV is so common that pretty much all sexually active people have had it at least once.
You can get HPV from vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who has it. Most HPV infections are harmless and clear out by themselves without any need for treatment. But some types of the virus can lead to genital warts or cancer.
Genital warts are bumps in, on, or around your genital area. This causes a lot of people discomfort or even shame, but genital warts are easy to treat and aren’t a serious threat if diagnosed early. However, they can increase the risk of transmission, so you should see a doctor as soon as you notice any suspicious growths.
70% of cervical cancer cases are caused by two specific strains of HPV (types 16 & 18). Other strains can also cause cancer in the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and mouth.
While there is no cure for HPV, there are a lot of ways to prevent it from negatively affecting your life. Since most HPV goes away by itself, maintaining a healthy immune system is critical in fighting the virus. In most cases, the virus will be completely gone within two years. But you can still transmit HPV without any symptoms, so it’s still important to get checked.
Women who are over the age of 18 or are sexually active should get routine pap smears to check for cervical cancer. There are no HPV screening tests for men, but it’s always safest to assume that if you’re having sex, you’re at risk.
As with all STDs, sleeping with more people puts you more at risk of contracting HPV. But it’s still possible to get the virus the first time you have sex, or in a monogamous relationship.
Using condoms and dental dams can greatly reduce the risk of getting HPV, but the virus can still be found on and transmitted through areas that aren’t covered. One of the best ways to protect against HPV, besides monogamy or abstinence, is to get the vaccine.
There are two main kinds of HPV vaccines in the Philippines: Cervarix and Gardasil. Cervarix is approved for women aged 9 to 25, and protects against the cancer-causing strains (16 & 18) of HPV.
Gardasil, on the other hand, is approved for both men and women aged 9 to 26. It also protects against HPV types 16 and 18, as well as types 6 and 11 which cause genital warts. There’s also Gardasil 9, which protects against five more strains, but doesn’t seem to be available in the Philippines just yet.
Whether you go for Cervarix or Gardasil, you’ll need three doses of the shot. They’re available in most hospitals and specialty clinics, but call ahead to make sure they have the kind that you’re looking for.
Getting HPV can be terrifying and humiliating, but it’s not the life-ending experience many people think it to be. It’s easy to prevent, and, in low-risk cases, easy to manage. Just make sure to get vaccinated, have routine check-ups, and keep calm and carry on.
Illustration by Patsy Lascano