The Most Common STI in America Isn’t What You Probably Think It Is

photo: sexualhealthnetwork.org.uk

It’s Sexual Health Awareness Month and we’re going to be providing you with all of the sexual health knowledge your brain can hold! To start off with, we’re going to discuss some STIs.

If you’re like me and grew up in Indiana, chances are you don’t know a whole lot about STIs unless you were motivated to learn about them on your own time. In my high school health classes where I was supposed to learn about stuff like that, STIs were skimmed over in one day. We were more or less told what they were and that the existed. I didn’t even know you could successfully treat and cure some of them, and I was a 4.0 student!

It wasn’t until I got to college that I started to understand they’re actually still prevalent in today’s society among all sexual orientations, especially if you don’t use protection (which was another topic we rushed over in about 5 minutes).

The first STI we’re going to cover is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., human papillomavirus or HPV.

hpv-word-collage
photo: medicalnewstoday.com

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. Approximately 79 million Americans (20% of the population!) are currently infected, with an additional 14 million infected every year.

So what’s the big deal with HPV?

First off, it can be passed on even when an infected person doesn’t have any symptoms. That’s always a scary thought.

For the most part, HPV goes away on its own and won’t cause you any real health problems. If it doesn’t go away, it can cause genital warts, or cervical, vulva, vaginal, penis, or anus cancer. As if that’s not bad enough, it could also cause cancer in the back of your throat.

The CDC says there’s no way to know which people who have HPV will develop cancer. In fact, there’s actually not a way to find out someone’s HPV status. For women, the Pap test is a good indicator since it looks for cervical cancer, but there’s no real good test for men or youth right now.

This means you typically find out you have HPV when you are diagnosed with cancer or develop other serious health problems. And while there’s not a treatment for the HPV virus, there are treatments for some of the health problems that arise, such as genital warts.

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photo: aap.org

The best way to protect yourself against HPV is to get vaccinated. You may remember those commercials with the little girls jump roping and singing ‘O-N-E-L-E-S-S I want to be one less, one less!’. That was an ad for the HPV vaccination. The vaccine is recommended for both males and females (yes, guys it’s not just a girl issue!) and is given in three shots over six months.

It’s also important for women to get a Pap smear every three years starting at age 21 to detect and prevent cervical cancer.

The other thing you can do to protect yourself should come as no surprise: use a condom!

What else can you do? Share this information with others! By sharing knowledge, you can help to stop the spread of STIs and live an HPV free life!

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