When I was diagnosed in the early 2000s, I found the internet to be mostly useless, which further discouraged and depressed me. I did find one organization, then known as Tamika & Friends and now called Cervivor
. But with such high rates of HPV, shouldn’t there have been dozens? Now, 10 years later, the online situation isn’t as grim, with sites like Bedsider
, and sex positive influencers like Dan Savage
, providing useful and truthful information about STIs.
All of this mystery and negative messaging had an impact on the way I viewed sex and STIs. A year before I was diagnosed, a friend of mine contracted HPV and was very open with me about it. While I had listened to her and nodded sympathetically, in the back of my mind I rationalized, "Well, she has slept with a bunch of people and I haven’t; HPV won't affect someone like me."
I know, I was a jerk.
The first thing I did after getting my HPV diagnosis was to reach out to her to apologize for being so small-minded and judgemental, even though I never said those thoughts out loud. She accepted my apology, but was equally as shocked to learn that I contracted HPV from only one sexual partner. Meaning, she had also subscribed to the harmful stigma of promiscuity — that’s what we were taught, after all.
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month
, and nearly all cervical cancer incidences are directly related to the HPV virus
. Sadly, there wasn’t much for you to read about this during the past few weeks. Clickbait doesn’t typically come in the form of "let's talk about STIs."
People are going to continue having sex, whether or not they’re married, above the age of 18, or monogamous — that won’t ever change. What could change is the way we learn and talk about sex so that we’re sex positive, equip with the knowledge that will help us avoid STIs, and seek help without guilt or shame if we do.
I'm tired of feeling judged based on misguided, uneducated opinions; it’s time to remove the stigma. Amanda Marcotte wrote
last year that the 2015 decision in Texas to fund abstinence-only education likely passed because of the anecdotes offered up by supporters. If it's anecdotes we need, I'm ready with mine. I’m done lowering my voice.