For people with vulvas, turning twenty five means that you’ll be invited to have your first smear test (unless you’ve been pregnant or had previous complications, then it would be earlier than this). Despite how scary it can be, I can not stress enough how important it is that you go.
Smear tests (or pap smears) are to test us for Human Papillomavirus (HPV). I see a lot of sex ed accounts talk about HSV (herpes) but not many about HPV. So I want to talk about it and raise awareness.
I had my first smear test, then a few weeks later received a letter saying that I did have HPV. Upon receiving this I had no prior knowledge to what HPV actually was. I had absolutely no idea how serious it was (or wasn’t) or what it meant. I had to educate myself and was able to find some amazing resources. I discovered that HPV can be in your body for years without ever amounting to anything. Therefore, I could’ve got it six years ago, or a few months before. It IS an STI. But condoms don’t always prevent transmission, as it is also transmitted through skin on skin contact. HPV causes warts in some cases, and in other cases can lead to abnormal cells resulting in cervical cancer. This is why it’s so important to get tested. However, there are over one hundred different kinds of HPV and the one that I had doesn’t pose much risk. I was just required to have another smear test in one years time, instead of three years time, to check if the virus had changed at all. In general, HPV is like a common cold, your body will get rid of it on its own.
Obviously, my main concern was what to do regarding sexual partners. You are not required to inform people you have it. And 70% - 80% of sexually active adults will have HPV sometime in their life. I decided that I would tell current and future partners that I have it and encourage them to research it themselves.
If you want to reduce the possibility of transmission as much as possible, use condoms and dental dams. However, as always, education is the most important thing, and normalising STIs will help everyone to get treatment and reduce stigma. STIs are not dirty. As long as you get regular check ups and are honest to sexual partners then it is much easier to prevent the spread of them.
From my extensive research, I also learnt that there isn’t really a test to find HPV in people with a penis, therefore you might go through your whole life without ever being aware you have HPV. After three smear tests I found out the virus had cleared on its own without me ever having symptoms or needing any form of medication. Luckily, I had a low risk kind of HPV, so it did not effect my life, but others may not be so lucky. So, if you have a vulva, please please get a smear test. And if someone tells you they have HPV, don’t worry, you should be safe. Just educate yourselves and if you don’t want an STI always use condoms and dental dams to be completely safe.