It was my freshman year of college. I had just finished a year of excellent grades, good times, and sexual adventure. Always one to practice safe sex on my sexcapades and get tested every few months, it came as a surprise when my doctor said that my pap smear came back abnormal, and I tested positive for low-risk HPV cells.
Really? But how?
The Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. At least 50% of sexually active adults will get genital HPV, and yes, it can be transmitted through condoms. There are over 40 types of HPV that impact the genital areas of men and women in addition to HPV types that infect the mouth and throat, including HPV strands that lead to genital warts and cervical cancer.
Thankfully, the body’s immune system naturally clears up 90% of HPV cases within two years. But the majority of people with HPV don’t even know that they have it, and it’s nearly impossible to test for the virus in men.
As I lay there freaked out that I had contracted a sexually transmitted virus, I wondered if HPV truly was as common as my doctor said. I began to ask my closest girlfriends, and nearly all had the same experience. Some were in the same monogamous relationship as they were in high school, while others were exploring their dating options. It seemed that HPV was unavoidable, but worse that it hit some of my girlfriends harder than others.
One of my bestfriends had both high-risk and low-risk HPV cells on her cervix. After six months, it appeared that the high-risk cells were spreading and becoming pre-cancerous. At twenty years old, she had to have a large chunk of her cervix removed under a LEEP procedure to get rid of the cells, which likely will cause complications if she decides to pursue pregnancy.
I recognized that I was lucky for my immune system to naturally clear up my low-risk HPV cells, and that I never needed surgery. But I did wonder why my parents hadn’t insisted that I get the HPV vaccination or why I had never heard of the various impacts of HPV until I contracted it.
1. The Gardasil vaccine is available to protect against most HPV strands that lead to genital warts (in men and women) and cervical cancer. The Ceravix vaccine also is available to protect women against most cervical cancers.
2. Pap tests are great for detecting HPV and abnormal cells that could lead to cervical cancer. The test is painless, simply allowing a doctor to brush your cervix for cells and submit them to be tested. The laboratory will detect if any cells are abnormal. It’s recommended that women get a pap test approximately every 6 months.
3. If you contract HPV, strengthening your immune system through healthy eating and exercise could make all the difference in your body fighting off the virus as quickly as possible. Eat right, take your vitamins, and work out. You want to give your body all the ammunition it needs to clear up the infection.
If you’ve ever experienced HPV, you’d know that it’s quite scary at first for many people. Share your story as it likely will help someone else going through an HPV infection.
My story is right in align with this one. In college I was not on the loose side but I got it in. I never knew what HpV was, as I was always on the lookout for herpes and Hiv. But I went to the OBGyn and I received the news that I had HPV cells in my vagina.
The scariest thing, now as I look back, is I still didn’t really understand the severity of HPV. Since the doctor made it seem like I was healthy enough to fight it off, she never offered the vaccine or any other solution besides being a little more “choosy” lover.
Thanks for this article and I hope more women and men understand what this virus is all about, it’s not a game.
I’m actually just getting over this scare. I just went to the doctor about a month ago and got a scary call that I needed to come back in for a colposcopy so that my dr. could look at cells further.
She called me back about a week ago and everything seems to be “fine”- meaning the cells do not seem to be in a harmful condition and that it should probably clear up in a few years and that I should get a check up again in 6 months.
After getting the initial call, I was scared. I was at work, and had to go outside and cry a little. I didn’t even tell my mother. I vaguely told a co-worker, we’ve become kinda close. But it does sound embarrassing since this is basically from being sexually active. My friend told me that she also had a the same call once and everything turned out fine.
It is still amazing to me how common this is, but NO ONE talks about it.
It’s the worse thing in the world having an STD…especially when you have no idea who you contracted it from. I was so ashamed of my genital warts and even more ashamed to tell the people who I’d been sexually active with know that I had the HPV virus. I remember how much the medicine I had to use burned, how uncomfortable it was. Only through the grace of God have the warts never come back but this will always represent a very low moment of my life…one that I pray I never have to go through again.
By the way, I admire your bravery in posting this article…having an STD is not an easy thing to talk about. Thanks for posting! 🙂
Most people don’t realize that you don’t have to be extremely promiscuous to contract HPV. HPV is contracted by skin on skin contact. Heavy petting, messing around, third base (whatever you want to call it) with a guy or girl can transmit HPV.
@ Kristen, thank you for being so forthcoming with your HPV story. There are many of us out there that live in shame over this, when that does not have to be the case.
My story is one of the Unique ones. I waited a long time before becoming sexually active. The guy that I was sleeping with was more or less my first foray into the wonderful world of sex…. His behaviour was becoming more and more unacceptable so I ended it. I realized that something was wrong with me downstairs. Went to my GYN that confirmed that I had HPV. I got the strain that gives you warts. I was assured that many people have it and that with medication it would go away. My Gyn prescribed me the meds which I used and at first, they started to clear up . I went back to him because it had not fully cleared so he prescribed me another medication. Took that and my body still resisted it. I apparently the really bad strain. It was uncomfortable and I was embarassed knowing that I had contracted an STD that was ravaging the life out of me. I ended up having to do laser surgery. The surgery was extensive and I was put under for 2 hours and the warts were extensive themselves. Left the hospital and felt fine. The the pain hit me. It is a pain that I would not wish on my worst enemy. I was on oxycodone around the clock and another pain reliver. It made me nautious. I could not walk as they had to laser me from front to back and way up in my cervix. I couldn’t stand up I couldn’t sit up. I had to just lay in bed. Bathing was hell. I could only do baths. Water touching that area was like acid touching your skin. I cried everytime I had to use the bathroom because the pain was unbearable. With the grace of God. I got strong enough to walk again, get off those meds and go back to work. BTW, I INSISTED ON A CONDOM EVERYTIME!!!! This virus can be contracted by skin to skin contact. However you only find out these when they are relevant to you. Ladies I hope my story serves as a lesson for you out there. Be very careful who you sleep with.
P.S. I healed fairly well, limited scarring and I’ve had no outbreaks since! 🙂
@Chelly: Beautiful story, and I’m so glad you’re symptom free. But I have question for you if you don’t mind: Since you are outbreak-free, do you feel the need to inform your partner of your status or former status?
Hi, no I don’t mind at all. I did inform my current partner. I’ve only been with him since. He is fine. We wear condoms and I have not had out break again. It’s been a year and a half symptom free.
@Chelly: Thank You for answering and again thank you for your strength to tell your story…Much Love
@Chelly: Thank you so much for your story Chelly!! My story is very similar to yours. I swear the worst things happen to the best of us. I’m having the same problems with the outbreaks. I never knew there was a surgery that can help with the outbreaks. Do you recommend it?
Thank u so much for this article. i am also in college and found out i have it about 5 months. i’ve have always been very careful and picky when it comes to guys so i was beyond shocked, scared and embarrased. at first i freaked out, but after talking to my doc and doing research i know i’m going to be ok. thankfully, mine is also low risk but i think more people need to know about this. thanks again
I was diagnosed with High Risk HPV a few months ago, just found out its not any of the strands that cause cancer but I am sooo fearful. My colposcopy is coming up and Im nervous as hell. I know that I contracted this from my ex bf, he prob didnt know he had it (or maybe he did). Anyways you do NOT have to be a “loose woman” or “slut” to get HPV it is very common. And I would suggest that before becoming serious with a guy you should go and get tested, and so should he.
The only thing is…it’s nearly impossible for men to be tested so they literally have NO idea that they have it.
@whit: So true. Other than genital warts, they have no idea.
I contracted HPV sophomore year of college in 2006 and had to have colposcopys each year since then for abnormal cells. The vaccine was just coming out around that time, and I got the series (paid for with my own money) after being diagnosed. For 5 years, the doctors said it would clear up on its own and finally in 2011, my pap came back with normal results. Paying closer attention to my eating, sleeping, and stress habits I think made my overall body stronger which helped clear up the cells. It was (and still is) a journey. There should be more awareness about this virus for our young people…
Thank you for this article…
I’m 45 and really confused why there are so many of you girls that are college age now who have not been vaccinated. We finally have the first vaccine to protect against cancer and none of you have bothered to get it. Why?!! And don’t say cost because if you can afford an iPhone you can afford a vaccine that can save your life or protect your fertility. Please don’t say it’s because you haven’t heard of it. When the vaccine came out several years ago there was so much media exposure about it and a bunch of uproar when certain states were making it mandatory, some hoping to require girls as young as 12 to receive it.
You all live in the age of the internet with access to any info you want at any time you want. All you have to do is google STIs and you have tons of information about everything there is to get and avoid. Every women’s magazine covers HPV relentlessly, especially when the vaccine was getting approved. I’m just really having a hard time understanding how you would know nothing about HPV, especially since churches made it their favorite STI to scare kids about when AIDS became less of a death sentence. So even if you were raised in the bible belt you would have been warned about it at some point, even if it was not the most accurate information.
So anyways, I of course was exposed in my college years as well. I got warts then (remember, warts are non-cancerous) and later in my 30s and 40s needed 2 LEEPS to take care of the cancerous strain contracted some other time. I never felt ashamed, just inconvenienced the weeks it took to get rid of the warts or later fearful of cancer when I had the bad paps. There is nothing to be ashamed about and I’ve always wondered why getting an STI is still looked at in this way. If you get the flu or a cold from having sex with someone you don’t run around in shame about it, so why is contracting any other virus that is sexual in nature something to be ashamed of? Your generation isn’t ashamed of unplanned pregnancies the way we were so why STIs? Trust me, there are a lot worse things that can happen to you then an STI. 50 years after the sexual revolution and women are still using terms like slut. That’s what you should be ashamed about!
Parents should be ashamed of themselves if they are purposely avoiding vaccinating their children because it’s something “sexual”!
Yes, practically everyone has been exposed at some point to HPV. I’ve seen some statistics saying 80% by the age of 50. The miracle of the vaccine was that by vaccinating both girls and boys before they were sexually active we could get to the point where in a few decades we wouldn’t have to worry about this anymore. But the religious right went into such a fury over the vaccine (because now they couldn’t use HPV as a scare tactic for abstinence anymore) that they managed to get some states to opt out of the mandatory vaccine requirements.
Having an HPV scare for any girl under the age of 25 is completely unnecessary right now. My niece was 14 when the vaccine was approved and I had no hesitation in asking her mother if she planned on getting her vaccinated. Everyone needs to get over the sex aspect of it and treat this as the miracle vaccine it is. A vaccine to eliminate a type of cancer people!!! Why aren’t young women getting it in their early teens, when it’s most recommended to have the optimal impact before any type of sexual contact begins?!
Be a part of the solution instead of ragging on the younger generation and how we SHOULD know. I’m not always so quick to pop a pill in my mouth so the vaccine isn’t ideal for women like me. Even so, had I been properly educated about it, I would have made different choices. Perhaps, you should start a youth mentoring program that preaches sexual responsibility and awareness. At 26 years old, I too, didn’t know about HPV until last year when my gynecologist called me and told me I had it.
The fact of the matter is, many of us were not warned. Stop putting blame on the young folx and the parents. Help us out so that we can teach out children so that they can teach their children.
@Lynn: Umm unlike so many people in this country I am not so quick to pop and pill and stick a needle in my arm. The vaccine protects against only 4 strains of the HPV virus but there are way more. Plus there has not been any long term testing on Gardasil so you don’t know how long it will work or if it will have any long term negative effects. If you think it is best for you great, but the rest of us don’t need a lecture.
Like everyone else, thank you so much for writing this!! I’ve been feeling so alone like I can’t talk to anyone about this. It’s truly embarrassing and makes me feel like I can’t get close to anyone or get in any serious relationships. I knew I wasn’t the only one but I’m very thankful to hear other’s stories. I swear the worst things happen to the nicest people. What I’m gathering from other’s stories is the same for my own. Being very careful and safe yet all of a sudden finding out that you have this thing that someone else has given to you and you having no idea where it came from. Does anyone else have the problem of getting close to someone in fear that if it gets too serious you know that eventually you’ll have to let this person know your status? I feel like I don’t even want to go there in fear that if I tell someone they’ll reject me and that’ll be another person that knows my status. How do you handle it because I’m driving myself crazy and feeling extremely lonely every since I found out that I have it. A big thanks you to Chelly for sharing your story!!! I’m going through the same thing right now and had no idea that there was a laser surgery that can help with the outbreaks. Do you recommend it? And another big thanks to Arielle Loren. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m so glad I read this, it’s truly helped me!
Wow. Just wow. This is such a great story and thank you so much for sharing. When I got HPV a few years ago I cried for a week and was glued to the internet for a month trying to find answers. My doctor assured me that nearly everybody gets it at some point and that it would likely clear in a few years (I have the high risk, non-warts, possibly cancerous kind). Though it has not cleared in 3 years, I have yet to have an abnormal pap and I have had 2 clean colposcopies so the virus isn’t causing any trouble so far. I hope to be clear in the next 2 years but it REALLY changes how you view sex, both casual and committed. A condom can’t protect you and I really wish they stressed this more in high school because they make condoms seem like this force field when in actuality there is a lot you can still get with a condom on. In the end you need to know as much about your partner as possible and if that means seeing his STD results, so be it.
@Deanna: I was the same way Deanna. When I found out that I had it a year ago I cried for weeks and spent hours at a time searching for answers on the internet. I totally agree with you that the word about this really needs to be spread in high schools as well as colleges and beyond. No one’s talking about this. And I got the same response from my doctors (I seen two different ones to get a second opinion). They said that it’ll clear up and that a lot of people have it but don’t know that they have it. I just feel like they’re way too comfortable with giving that answer. And no it hasn’t cleared up yet. Sometimes I wonder how often doctors keep up to date with information that they’re feeding to their patients.
Hi, I know this is post is almost 8 years old but I’m 21 a junior in college and just found out I have high risk HPV and I’m completelty freaking out and feel so ashamed of my actions. I’ve only had two partners but one was very promiscuous before me but his STI screening was clear so I didn’t think it was a problem. Now I’m stuck with the burden of possibly having cancer and possibly not being able to have kids. Did your HPV ever clear up?
If I would’ve known about this virus I wouldn’t waited until marriage I didn’t know the “number” actually implicated something if their tests were clean.
I would have waited until marriage *
Also I was vaccinated but the vaccine only protected me against the two high risk types now they protect children from 7 strains
@Lourna, yes I do put all the blame on the parents. There is no reason they shouldn’t be educating their children about HPV and vaccine. None whatsoever. Why? Because all of those mothers have been getting pap smears (hopefully yearly) since they were in their 20s, with the majority of them getting a bad pap at least once and resulting colpo, possibly leading to LEEP. And at my age, every woman I have known has had a bad pap at least once. The ONLY reason you get pap smears is to see if HPV has done anything to you. You mean all these adult women are clueless about why they are getting a yearly procedure and what the results really mean? So it’s just irresponsible parenting to not get your child vaccinated or at least have the doctor educate them, if they are an older teen, and give them the option. Because usually by the time you reach 25, getting the vaccine when older is pointless, as many or you are discovering. It doesn’t take much to get exposed.
I ask all kinds of questions at my visit. When I was younger and went to male doctors I got funny looks when I requested STI screening. I took the look to mean “why do you think you need this, are you a slutty girl?” but didn’t let their judgmental attitude get to me and responded that I get tested every time I get a pap. And you should too. Every year get tested for chlamydia & gonorrhea, as chlamydia is quite common as well. Even if you are in a committed relationship you really have no way of knowing what your partner is doing. It takes just seconds while your doctor is already down there and can at least give you a baseline each year in case you do get something. Just think of it as any other physical test and don’t put any emotional drama into it. A good doctor won’t ask why you want it and it’s actually been recommended years ago for women in their teens and 20s to get chlamydia tests twice a year since it’s that common. The cure is just one antibiotic pill to pop so no need to cry for weeks that you got an STI. Just pop the damn pill and quit slut-shaming yourself. I usually only do HIV testing once every 5 yrs or so since the risk is less.
Oh, and I no longer go to male OB/Gyns. They just don’t have the same understanding and were never helpful with any serious questions I had. Women doctors know what it’s like to live in a women’s head and are way more understanding about sexual questions.
@lemonlime, the 4 strains gardisil covers include the 2 most common cancer causing varieties. If a vaccine came out for any other type of cancer people would be lining up to get it. But when the drug was first approved, parents were actually in an uproar about the recommended age of 12 since they couldn’t, just couldn’t, think of their precious snowflake ever having sex. Everyone was caught up in the sex angle, not that HPV is a leading cause of infertility for women in their 30s.
So yes, if I seem shrill, it’s because a drug was actually invented to curb the majority of cervical cancer cases or deaths and yet the American public response was more concerned that the cancer was caused by an STI and therefore should remain a learning lesson for “bad behaviour”. Trust me, I’ve been on several internet forums over the years concerning the vaccine and you’d be amazed what people were saying concerning the reason for said cancer. Church groups were pissed that now kids would have one less thing to worry about. Yeah, they’d actually rather have the kids infected and “pay for their sin” than protect a woman in her late 20s and 30s from cancer, which is usually when trouble starts appearing, years after being exposed when younger. And young boys should get the vaccine as well, even if they never have to worry about cervical cancer, because it’s just one more way to reduce the spread.
It’s just so frustrating to hear these stories about girls crying for weeks after finding out they have HPV. Yes, I have a big problem with women slut-shaming themselves over things like these. The main reason that these girls seem to be crying is because it’s an STI and they are ashamed, not the actual virus. It’s frustrating that women can still use a term like slut against other women (and I seem to hear it more from women’s mouths than men). When I was diagnosed with warts and chlamydia at age 21, I promptly called 2 men who I was no longer involved with to let them know about the chlamydia. I had awful reactions from each one even though I thought I was doing the socially responsible thing. But it didn’t stop me from notifying another man 15 yrs later when I got chlamydia again from non-consensual sex with a friend. I still felt he should know, even though he was in the military and would no-doubt get tested in a physical. He was more mature and nice about it though.
I’ve just always thought about things rationally, even when young. I dealt with the whole wart removal process on my own, driving to Planned Parenthood weekly, and they were wonderful as they don’t run around getting all judgmental either. I think if more young women used PP instead of a family doctor for their yearly visits you’d have a much different outlook on these things and be way more educated.
And unless you have active warts, which they’d see anyways if they’re doing sex right, there really is no reason to fret about telling every sexual partner in your future about it. They most likely already have been exposed and the main problem with HPV is cervical cancer. You aren’t being dishonest, it’s not like you have AIDS. Although I do recommend telling past or current partners about other STIs as you’d just become reinfected if you didn’t have them treated. If more people just got tested for the common STIs regularly we wouldn’t have to worry about this. But I am hoping all of you do this now during your annuals as it only took that one time at 21 to make me realize it’s more important to know and be promptly treated than be embarrassed in the future asking for a test.
@Winnie, the doctors aren’t uneducated or withholding info, there’s just not much you can do once you’ve been exposed. You just need to monitor the situation for a few years with twice yearly paps until you’ve had several good paps and can go back to an annual test. The only thing you can “get rid of” is the actual warts, which aren’t the cancer causing strains. There is nothing to remove unless you develop cancerous lesions, which then requires the LEEP and can lead to infertility since it narrows the cervix. I’ve had 2 but the doctor said technically I could still carry to term, just would be high risk.
And never put off yearly paps!! I had a very close call with cervical cancer at 35 that was discovered just one year after my last good pap. The doctor thought I hadn’t had one in years, due to the extensive growth rate of cell dysplasia. When I was back with my regular doctor she said that had I been a smoker, I would have had full blown cervical cancer due to the rapid growth. Another reason to quit smoking if you do as it can affect the way the body fights off disease.
Sorry for the long post, there is just so much to cover regarding sexual health. Don’t shame yourself, educate yourself. You can have a healthy sex life without being afraid of every man you meet. You may think 45 is old but I’ve been single all of my life, with many sexual partners, so I’m quite up on the dating scene. And in 27 yrs of sexual activity, HPV has been the most troublesome health-wise. The 2 cases of chlamydia were easy to cure with the resulting phone calls the hardest part. But I didn’t cry for weeks or beat myself up for it as it happens to damn near everyone at some point and more people just need to be honest about it. Sex is natural and healthy. Don’t let anyone tell you different. And if your body allows, get on the pill!! No more periods with Loestrin 24!
I cannot in sound mind and judgement recommend the Gardasil vaccine. Today marks my 16th day in bed after receiving the shot. Should you conduct your own research, you will find that there are far more deaths from the vaccine than reported, as well as very harsh side effects. Additionally, Gardasil is made from a synthetic virus, and has not been thoroughly vetted. Other countries have pulled this product from the market, but of course, America is about the bottom line (not protecting it’s citizens).These are facts about which I wish my ob/gyn had been more forthcoming. While I do not know much about Cerevix, I cannot imagine that it’s terribly different from Gardasil.
Yulez, I am so sorry to hear that. You are right, they haven’t adequately disseminated this info in the media compared to when the vaccine first came out and I stand corrected for hoping every teen was getting vaccinated. I know that it had been extensively tested for several years in other countries so this is surprising news.
If there is an upside to your plight, I hope once you get better you will see the benefits of the vaccine since the negative side of the cancerous strains of HPV isn’t a picnic in your later years. Is it still a 3 shot vaccine, in which you may be opting out of the next 1 or 2? If so, am guessing you still might reap some benefits from the 1st shot as I never completed the 3rd phase of hepatitus vaccine. PP just happened to run out that day when I came back 6 months later, per schedule, during their weekly STI clinic and then I never got around to going back again. My regular doctor, when I had gone in for my annual, had said the 1st two doses would give me some protection if I ever needed it.
Thank you posting this …. This article is helping me right now
I had warts as a teen, and I was so ashamed and scared, that I sat in the bathroom with a hand mirrror and literally pinched the warts off of my skin. I never told anybody about it, and they never came back. That was very stupid, but ended up very lucky. Then a couple years later I got an abnormal pap. By then I was an adult and mature enough to confide in my dad. He accompanied me to the oncologist so that I could have the LEEP procedure done. My mother died of breast cancer, and I was terrified that I could get cancer too.
A while after that I went to a free STD clinic for teens to get my annual HIV and STD testing, and the nurse asked me if I wanted to participate in a study regarding HPV. I didn’t have to do anything except make my medical records available for statistics and study, so I agreed. Then I got a call out of the blue offering me the Guardasil vaccine series for free. I jumped on the chance. I haven’t had any problems since.
I completely forgot about the Guardasil vaccine. Nobody talks about it anymore. I’m sure if I heard somebody talking about HPV I would remember to mention the vaccine, but it would never come up in conversation the way birth control, or getting tested for HIV would.
I have actually over heard several conversations where men were sharing experiences of encounters with women who said they could have had cancer. I remember the tone they were using, as if they thought these girls were making up lies to cover up the fact that what they really had was an STD, and how they couldn’t have gotten it from them, because they didn’t show any symptoms. It showed me that men need to be educated about this too. I was too ashamed to jump into those conversations, because I didn’t want them to know I had HPV and have them judge me the way they judged their sexual partners. Its just not something you go around telling people. I wished I would have just spoke on what I know, without letting on that I had the virus.
I am very thankful for this article. I received my first abnormal pap in college and was told I had come in contact with HPV. This was prior to Gardisil being released to the public, so I did not have that option. I eventually received a colposcopy and biopsy to remove the abnormal cells, and was told after that I was fine. In a recent trip to the clinic, I was told that I had warts, and was crushed. I was certain that everything had cleared up, but that was not true. I received my first dosage of Gardisil at this visit because I was told it can clear other strains of the HPV virus. I’m scheduled to have a removal appointment soon, and I’m just happy that I know these things can be treated. I went through a short depression after hearing the news, but after speaking to close friends and my mother, I know that it could have been worse, and am thankful. I’m happy to see you all share your stories. I no longer feel ashamed.
It’s really nice to read about young girls like myself (20) going through the same thing as me. I literally felt like my world was ending when my doctor called with my abnormal pap. I had my appointment today where the scrape and biopsy the cervix, and it hurt. I was all alone and shaking and scared, and my doctor was extremely rude to me. She told me that I had to stop sleeping around and was extremely judgmental. I felt very betrayed by her and if it weren’t for the hpv, I wouldn’t ever go back. I still feel extremely offended and now feel guilty for something that I hadn’t ever felt guilty for before.
She told me she thought that everything would be fine, but I’m still nervous and confused and I still don’t really even understand what is going on. I never have had any noticeable symptoms and I just wish it never happened to me. I start crying randomly because I’m so scared and I am too nervous to tell my mom.
But reading this has helped me feel less alone. And like less of a “whore” even though my doctor sure thinks so.