Sex as a topic was considered taboo for a very long period, at least here in India.
In the past few years, however, more people are talking about sex and sexual wellness. People want to know more about how they can be safe and take care of their health. If you look at conversations online, you would see that there is more openness and a real desire to involve more and more people in taking care of their sexual health.
Sexual wellness information and products are widely available online and it is best for every adult to understand as much as possible. In addition to all this, conversations around sexual health should happen offline, more often, in a safe space and with people you are close to.
For young women, their roommates, close friends, and college gangs may be the first group of people where sex is discussed, information is exchanged, and doubts are cleared. And while they all talk about sexual experiences, what is important is a talk that revolves around sexually transmitted infections.
So while your bestie might know everything around dating, the best deals on clothes, make-up, and the coolest places to hang out, there is something they may miss out on and that is information about HPV and HPV prevention.
What is HPV?
HPV, also known as the Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted viral infection. 1 Any gender that is sexually active can get an HPV infection. There are over 100 kinds of this virus that can affect you. 2 Nearly 80% of individuals who are sexually active are prone to get an HPV at some point in their life. 3
The term “papilloma” refers to a wart that results due to the HPV type. Almost 60 out of the 100 HPV types cause warts to develop on your hands and feet. The remaining 40 enter your body during sexual contact. Not all of these 40 types will cause serious health problems to you. 3
HPV is a common infection and in most cases, the infection goes away on its own. But some types of HPV are harmful to your well-being. Women might get cervical cancer, or cancer of the vagina, vulva, and anus.3
The best way to stay protected from HPV is to practice safe sex, use condoms and dental dams, go in for regular cervical screenings, and get the HPV vaccine.
How does an HPV spread in the human body?
The major aspect you need to remember is that every sexually active man or woman can contract HPV during sex. Here are different ways it can spread:
Skin-to-skin contact: While having sex, whenever there is intimate skin-to-skin contact, whether it is near the vagina, or during anal sex, there is a high chance to get an HPV infection. 4
Oral sex: Whether you perform oral sex or deep kissing, there are high chances for you and your partner to catch this infection. 5
Other ways: Apart from sexual activity, there is a possibility of contracting an HPV infection even through genital contact without sex though this is not common. There might be other ways of catching this infection but that is still not clear. 4 In India, almost every case of cervical cancer is due to HPV. 7
Symptoms of HPV:
In most cases, there are no symptoms. The body clears the infection in a few years. Most people don’t even know that they had an HPV. But for a few unfortunate cases with high-risk HPV types, the impact lasts longer. 2
In women, the virus can cause changes in the cells of the cervix which can lead to cervical and vulvar cancer. 2 In another rare scenario, the same thing might cause abnormal changes in the cells of the anus or penis. 3
The symptoms of low-risk HPV type are warts. Depending on the type of HPV you might get different types of warts such as
- Genital warts – Found on the anus, cervix, vagina, penis, or scrotum.
- Common warts – Found on fingers.
- Plantar warts – Found at the bottom of your feet.
- Flat warts – Commonly found on your face and legs. 3
After 2 to 3 months of getting HPV infection, the symptoms may start to show. But there is no guarantee of this. Sometimes, you might see the symptoms after 3 weeks or even after a year. 6 In fact, 80% of HPV-related cancers can be treated and prevented. 7
Another notable fact is that Every 5 minutes, 1 individual loses their life to HPV-related cancer. 8 Hence, to be safe, doctors usually recommend that everyone get the HPV vaccine before they start getting sexually active or have just begun.
Today, cervical cancer is the second largest cancer that affects women in India. 9
I remember discussing with friends that longer use of oral contraceptive pills might increase the risk of women developing cervical cancer, thus making it very important that the use of medication should be regulated by experts. 10
You can also read: Everything you need to know about Reusable Sirona Menstrual Cup
How can I be safe from the HPV virus?
- Remember, that there is no guarantee of avoiding an HPV infection. As long as you are sexually active, there is always a chance of getting this infection. Hence, to be safe from this, speak to your doctor about getting the HPV vaccine. This vaccine can help in preventing HPV infection.
- You can ask your doctor for more information and how it is helpful to you. Apart from the vaccine, there are treatments available for other symptoms of HPV.
- Getting tested frequently is important for both genders. But for women, it’s better to be frequently tested as they might catch the early signs of cervical cancer.
- Always use condoms or dental dams to perform oral sex and intercourse.
- Limiting your sexual partners too is one way to reduce the risk of catching HPV infections.
This is best discussed with your doctor. Go with their consultation and get the HPV vaccine accordingly. HPV vaccines are available across the nation. Consult with your doctor before taking the HPV vaccine
HPV is an infection not many know about. In closed-door discussions with your besties, you may be shocked that either there is no awareness or very little information about prevention. Since this virus affects every sexually active individual, it is best if we start talking about it so everyone knows and can stay safe from it.
Read more about HPV and its prevention here.
Issued in public interest by MSD India
- Centers for disease control and prevention https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5912a1.htm 2022
- Web MD What is HPV,
https://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/hpv-genital-warts/hpv-virus-information-about-human-papillomavirus , Accessed on 3 March 2021
- Centers For Disease Control & Prevention
https://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/latex.html , accessed on March 2022
- American Cancer Society,
https://www.cancer.org/healthy/hpv-vaccine.html , accessed on March 2022
- Bruni L, Albero G, Serrano B, Mena M, Collado JJ, Gómez D, Muñoz J, Bosch FX, deSanjosé S. ICO/IARC Information Centre on HPV and Cancer (HPV Information Centre).
Human Papillomavirus and Related Diseases in India. Summary, accessed on 11 March 2022
- HPV Information Centre, https://hpvcentre.net/statistics/reports/IND_FS.pdf , accessed on 11 March 2022
- Asthana S, Busa V, Labani S. Oral contraceptives use and risk of cervical cancer Asystematic review & meta-analysis. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2020 Apr;247:163-175