What Stace had to say on Friday, September 16th, 2011
Your Cervix and You

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.

12 comments to “Your Cervix and You”

  1. synde
    · September 16th, 2011 at 4:24 pm · Link

    brilliant post..Bravo Stace…you made me remember to schedule my own pap smear..you know for my vagina…why such a scary word….? Again…thanks for the post. :smile:

  2. Geekamicus
    · September 16th, 2011 at 6:53 pm · Link

    Thank you for this. Trust me, there is nothing worse than having a doctor look you in the eye, tell you he thinks you have cancer then pointing out that if you had bothered to get a pap smear recently this might not be an issue. There is nothing like the kicking of yourself you do because your life is in jeopardy because you were too [busy, scared, embarrassed, stupid, lazy] to make the appointment.

    The 45 seconds of discomfort (bracketed by 10 minutes of embarrassment) is a very small price to pay for early detection. That talk with the doctor is one I hope you never have to have, it’s not pretty. I was lucky. The earlier they find a problem, the better chance you have of being lucky too. It’s not a guarantee, but this is one tiny bit of control you can have over fate.

    • Stace
      · September 16th, 2011 at 7:10 pm · Link


      Geekamicus, thanks for this, and I hope everything turns out okay for you–I’m hoping the fact that you said “I was lucky” means it has, but just in case…

      • Geekamicus
        · September 16th, 2011 at 7:52 pm · Link

        Yup, I’m good. Weeks in hospital and a few parts short, but I’m okay now. Like I said, I was really lucky. I just think that it’s really important that we don’t let stupid excuses stand in the way of getting checked. Most of us don’t think we’re dumb enough to play with our lives, but that is in effect what you’re doing if you skip this step.

  3. Jennifer K Jovus
    · September 16th, 2011 at 8:01 pm · Link

    Excellent points – the fact is – that if you have a cervix, you can get cervical cancer. Unfortunately because people are uneducated about HPV they have bad opinions of it. (and those that have it)

    I am a nurse, I have worked in a OBGYN office for ten years. I have given the HPV vaccine to many young women and women. Will I have my daughter get the vaccine. Yes. Does that mean I am giving her the go ahead to have sex with every boy she meets? No. So why am I an advocate of it? Why not? We protect ourselves from many diseases and unfortunatly, this is one very common virus that effects millions of people. If it was a vaccine for skin cancer there would be no debating about it people would be lining up for it.

    I am irritated about this too and feel so bad for this poor woman that spoke up for something she believes in. (And obviously needs to be discussed because of the misconceptions that have been stated) Good for her for trying to educate people about HPV and cervical cancer. Thank you for bringing this to light and endorsing preventative healthcare.


  4. Amy Ashley
    · September 17th, 2011 at 12:00 pm · Link

    Wonderful post, Stacia. I volunteered as a patient advocate on an STD forum for a few years before my little guys took over all my time. It saddens me deeply that ignorance leads to SO much heartache and lack of prevention in these things! We each only have one body to look after. Doing our best to learn what puts those bodies at risk and how we can manage that risk is vital! These are not dirty topics, or dirty deeds. The illness, pain, and loss that could result from refusing to speak out and refusing to listen and learn is what is foul.

    Life can throw you a lot of nasty shit you have no say in. Being prepared for some of it makes a big difference.

  5. Sarah
    · September 17th, 2011 at 10:44 pm · Link

    It would be funny if it weren’t so scary that anyone could be offended by this topic. The goofs with their fists in the air are probably book burners too. They might consider being upset that they’re stupid instead of being upset that there’s a health care issue that needs attention.

  6. Beth
    · September 18th, 2011 at 7:05 am · Link

    My mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer when I was 13. She received a pap smear, and it was diagnosed in the early stages. She was treated and made a full recovery.

    Years later, when I was in college, a nurse practicioner at my gynecologist’s office said to me that it was a good thing that I wasn’t sleeping around (I had a steady boyfriend at the time) because, since my mom had cervical cancer, I would likely be more vulnerable to HPV. I was so offended, because she had basically implied that my mother was a slut.

    I don’t know what caused my mother’s cervical cancer, but whether it was HPV or not, what does it matter? And why do people become so judgemental about women who have active sex lives? It just burns me.

  7. Miss Bliss
    · September 18th, 2011 at 9:05 pm · Link

    One of the greatest gifts my Mom ever gave me was the clear understanding of how important it was to get a pap smear on a regular basis. Women died of all manner of curable diseases before we knew to look for them, or knew how to test for them…seems beyond stupid to die of them today when we have the ability to catch these things early on and take care of them. Why our society is still so threatened by sexually active women is a mystery. Or…maybe it’s not a mystery but I’ll leave that rant for another day.

  8. Gwen
    · September 19th, 2011 at 6:57 pm · Link

    I use to get a PAP every year since I was 17. 2 years ago my doctor told me I only needed one every second year.Now I’m wondering if that is such a smart idea after reading all your posts….

  9. Jaki
    · October 4th, 2011 at 7:31 pm · Link

    Four years ago, my nana (grandmother) was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She was 80. She died six months later (and yes, it was teh cervical cancer that killed her, not “old age” or the diabetes she was diagnosed with at 78). When she told me, I was shocked. I honestly thought that – while i know cancers can strike at any age – cervical cancer in particular was for “younger” women. Nana and I had a very good strong relationship, so in our conversations about it, yes, we discussed sex and sexual activity. She and my grandfather had not been sexually active for about 15 years (and no, I’m going to apologize for mentioning sex between old people – she’s a woman, he’s a man, their age doesn’t make a difference). I was one of those women who ignored my yearly pap smear appointments – not any more. Yes, I HATE them (is there any woman out there at all who can say they actually enjoy them???) I dread them, I hate them and I wish to high heaven I didn’t have to have them. But I scheduled them every year the day before my birthday (so i don’t forget) and then I make sure that that night, I do something special for myself as a treat – partly as remembrance for my nana, partlyn as a reward for actually doing something I dislike so intensely, and partly to make up for the ghastly discomfort (physical and emotional) that I have just gone through. 😀 Whether it’s treating myself to a new handbag (my weakness) or my husband cooking a special dinner, or just some “alone” sweet time with hubby, I make sure to do it. I’m rambling on I know, and I probably havne’t added anything pertinant to the discussion, but this blog post just struck a chord with me.

  10. AJ
    · October 23rd, 2011 at 6:29 pm · Link

    I’m glad I wasn’t eating or the word cervix would’ve really upset my delicate sensibilities.

    In all serious, this is a great post. It’s really nice when an author takes time out of their author stuff to speak up for something important. So thanks.

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