I've been an anxious mess recently, because I was awaiting my annual gynecology appointment. Usually, these don't cause me days of anxiety before and after, but this time was different. A year ago, I was diagnosed with HPV, which 50% of sexually active people have. I had no symptoms (which is common), but still I was surprised. When the nurse called to tell me, I was a wreck--mostly because of how she communicated the results to me. She was extremely blaming. I had asked her how this could have happened. I did "everything right"--I got the three rounds of Gardasil shots, I always practiced safe sex, so what the hell? The nurse then told me, "Well, the only way you can't get it is by practicing abstinence." This really pissed me off, because obviously I hadn't been abstinent, and was not intending to be. I remember thinking, "Who the hell am I talking to? Someone from a right wing crisis pregnancy center?" I was told to come back for a colposcopy.
I continued to be a nervous wreck until I talked to more people about it. Everyone I talked to calmed me down by letting me know how common it was, and how it doesn't just "jump" to cervical cancer. I was also dealing with feeling like a "whore" or "slut." It seemed even my feminism couldn't save me from the misogynist name calling I found myself participating in on my own person. I started thinking about who had given this to me, and that just made everything worse. I'm fairly sure I know who I got it from, and he was a horrible on/off-again boyfriend. I only found out months later that he, too, had HPV.
When I went back to my gynecologist, even she was perplexed at my anxiety. She said, "Oh, it's no big deal, and it generally leaves the body on its own." She gave me the colposcopy, which just means that she examined a magnified view of my cervix, and she couldn't find anything. I was lucky. There wasn't anything to biopsy. She told me to come back in a year.
This is where the story picks up. My appointment was earlier this week. My anxiety disorder told me horrible things the days leading up to the appointment. My mind went to the worst case scenario. I tried to make peace with whatever was going to happen.
After the appointment, I still felt nervous, because then began the waiting game. Waiting for test results is the absolute worst. I was surprised when, just one day after my appointment, I received a call from my gynecologist. I was prepared for the worst, because she had told me she would only call if my pap smear came back "Abnormal." As she spoke, I somehow realized she wasn't telling me bad news. I was fine. My pap smear was "Normal." My HPV had disappeared. It had gone away on its own. She just wanted to call me herself, because she knew how worried I was. Writing this, I feel so unbelievably happy and at ease.
I know I could still get HPV again. Men are spreading it like wildfire, because most of them don't know they have it. It's definitely a scary thing. My hope is that more women will step up and say, "I've had that" or "I have that" so there can be a more supportive and open discourse around HPV. If you have HPV or any other STI, you're NOT "diseased" or "dirty" or any of those poorly executed, misogynist adjectives.
When I looked up whether any women had written about having HPV, I couldn't find anything, except for under that awful "Yahoo Answers" board. I admittedly looked on that page, and was saddened by one of the questions I saw. A young woman said her boyfriend had wanted to break up with her, because she found out she had HPV. She went on to say that "He thinks that I've been whoring around with other men..." This is bullshit. The girl also said that her now ex claims to be "disgusted with [her] and says [she] need[s] help... physically, emotionally and mentally." This ex-boyfriend is beyond ignorant.
This is the kind of bullshit that needs to be eradicated from any discourse around HPV and other STI's. It is not okay for anyone to think like the above young woman's ex-boyfriend. It's especially ridiculous when it's mostly MEN who are the ones spreading HPV, since they have no idea they have it. I often wonder if some men even care about this sort of thing. Many of the men I've been with have been uncomfortably lax about STI's. How can this become a more important part of men's sex lives? Obviously, education is a good start.
The other ridiculous thing about men and HPV is that there is currently no test that men can take to even see if they have it! This is 2012. What is happening? I would think men would be appalled by this, too, but many don't even seem to know much about HPV anyway, so they seem to settle in their ignorance.
We all need to take charge of our sexual health and think about how it might affect others as well. Communication is needed. And for fuck's sake, educate yourself!
I am so happy to be healthy and HPV-free. If anyone needs someone to talk to about it, I'm here.