So it seems there’s a whole bunch of debate about the HPV vaccine and whether or not girls should be given it–why aren’t we talking about it being given to men, btw? Or are we, and I simply missed it? Because those women aren’t catching HPV from each other, generally.
Anyway. This post isn’t actually about the HPV vaccine. It’s kind of not even about HPV, although it is a bit. See, here’s what happened.
Apparently a writer named Ayelet Waldman had HPV, and was a bit upset by the finger-pointing etc. she felt was happening in the course of the vaccine debate, and so mentioned on Twitter that she’d had HPV. And the internet went crazy with people telling her, basically, that she was a dirty old whore or whatever for daring to speak of such things. See, HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, which means that even though Waldman got it from her husband–and thus the people involved were those married people who are apparently permitted to have sex–it’s still a horrible and shameful thing to have. The responses Waldman got to her tweet were pretty shocking; people were disgusted that she dared to mention such a thing. They called her names. They were very upset that they happened to be eating when she mentioned the word “cervix.” How dare she discuss her personal health! How dare she confess to having a disease that huge percentages of people have!
It’s dirty and shameful, you see, because she’s talking about a disease she got because of her having a vagina, and because she occasionally lets a man put his penis into it. The whore! I bet she wasn’t even concentrating solely on the idea of making babies while she let him do his filthy business to her. Imagine, a married woman confessing to having sex! I may never recover from my disgust.
In reaction to that, the Village Voice has declared today “Talk About Your Experience With HPV Day.”
So I’m using it to jump on my own little bandwagon here.
See, I have no experience with HPV. But I still had precancerous cells on my cervix fifteen years or so ago, and because of that, having a pap smear saved my life.
HPV is becoming more and more well-known, and that’s a good thing. There’s a vaccine, and regardless of anyone’s personal feelings about whether or not young women should be automatically given that vaccine, I think we can all agree that having a vaccine is a good thing.
But I feel like in all of the discussion about HPV and how it can and often does lead to cervical cancer, it’s not mentioned very often that yes, HPV is a cause. But it’s not the only cause. Every woman who ever had cervical cancer (or precancer) did not and does not have HPV. I tested negative several times, but still had that colposcopy and LEEP biopsy, and I know I’m not the only one.
Cervical cancer doesn’t only strike women who are sexually active. Anyone, any woman, can get cervical cancer. Virgins can get it. Nuns can get it. People who’ve never left their homes in their lives can get it. Having cervical cancer does NOT automatically equal HPV; while HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, cervical cancer is NOT.
I don’t want that to be forgotten, because I think when we fail to clarify that, when we fail to mention and remind people that HPV is not the only cause, we encourage women who aren’t sexually active, or who’ve only had one partner and both were virgins, or whatever else, to skip getting their pap smears. (BTW: A dear friend of mine who happens to be a lesbian has asked me to point out that yes, this means lesbians do indeed need to get annual pap smears. Apparently she once met an actual gynecologist who was confused about this.)
That’s a mistake. Pap smears save lives. If you are a female over the age of sixteen or so, you need to get one. Period. Doesn’t matter if you’re having sex or plan to; get a pap smear anyway. Yes, it’s kind of uncomfortable, but it’s a fleeting discomfort. It doesn’t really hurt. And yes, maybe it’s a bit difficult if you’re the modest type, but suck it up. You don’t have anything your doctor hasn’t seen before, and this can save your life. It’s important. Just do it.
HPV is nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s very common. But HPV is also not the only cause of cervical cancer, so the fact that you do not have HPV is not a guarantee that you don’t have cervical cancer.
If you haven’t had a pap smear done in the last year, call and make an appointment now.