Sexually active teens and adults see red ribbons and infomercials for HIV/AIDS. They hear about STDs, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis, in sex-ed courses, but how often do they hear about the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) of all for approximately 79 million Americans?
According to CDC, there are more than 40 types of genital human papillomavirus (HPV) infecting men and women, and condoms may not be able to stop HPV from transmitting from one sexual partner to another.
The obstacle between condoms protecting someone against HPV is that condoms are meant to provide the most protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that can be only be transmitted through genital fluids, such as the the STDs mentioned above, as well as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). However, condoms aren't made to completely protect against skin-to-skin contact STDs, such as herpes, syphilis, chancroid and HPV.
Approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people are newly infected each year, and HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. However, there are ways to fight the odds.
There are two vaccines (Cervarix and Gardasil) that females ages 9 to 26 can get to protect against most genital warts and to protect against anal, vaginal and vulvar cancers. But for women who are out of that age group, what should they do?
CDC reports that most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from having it, and for 90 percent of people, their healthy immune system will fight it off within two years.
Those who can't fight off HPV may end up with:
- Genital warts
- Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP), a rare condition in which warts grow in the throat
- Cervical cancer, cancer on a woman's cervix
- Genital cancers (cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus)
- Oropharyngeal cancer (cancer in the back of throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils)
Sometimes genital warts will disappear on their own. Other times they may increase in number or stay the same, but there is a treatment that can be applied by a medical provider or the recipient.
Other ways to lower the risks:
- Routine screening for women ages 21 to 65 (cervical cancer screenings for any abnormal cells)
- Decline tobacco products to avoid oropharyngeal cancers
- Limit alcohol intake to avoid oropharyngeal cancers
- Use condoms correctly and consistently to avoid genital warts
- Monitor the expiration dates on condoms; discard any that are out of date
- Be in a monogamous relationship
- Choose a sexual partner who is a virgin or who has had few previous sexual partners
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