Happy New Year, Intimina fans! If you’re thinking #NewYearNewMe, then why not start the year off by getting serious about your intimate health? In January is Cervical Health Awareness Week, and if that’s making you go, ‘Huh?’ then it’s time that you get hit with 5 hard truths about your cervix and making sure it’s getting the TLC it deserves.
1. Cervical Cancer Can Be Fatal (But It’s Preventable)
In the United States alone, around 12,000 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, and for 1/3, it will be fatal. However, when detected at an early stage, the 5-year survival rate of cervical cancer is 92% – by reading this article and taking note of how to prevent and detect it, you’re already making a great start!
2. HPV is Nearly Always the Culprit
Virtually all cervical cancer is caused by HPV (human papillomavirus) – a group of some 40 related viruses – with nearly 70% attributed to HPV 16 and 18. HPV spreads from skin-to-skin contact, which means that it can still be passed between partners if you’re using condoms, or if you’re abstaining from penis-in-vagina penetrative sex.
Yep, that’s right, you can get HPV from things like fingering or unprotected oral sex.
3. Almost Everyone Will Have HPV In Their Lifetime
It’s estimated that three quarters of the reproductive-aged population will have a strain of HPV at some point during their life – and largely,they won’t see any effects. Most strains of HPV are innocuous, and will go away on their own as your body passes the infection.
It’s only persistent infection with high-risk strains 16 and 18 that can lead to cervical cancer, and generally, once you’ve had a strain, you should be immune to it, though that is not necessarily true of immunocompromised members of the population.
4. Vaccinations Are the Only Way to Protect Your Sex Life
As mentioned, barrier protections – think male and female condoms, as well as dental dams – may not totally protect you during sexual activity, as HPV is spread through skin to skin contact. Vaccinations such as Gardasil protect against HPV-6, 11, 16, and 18, which are the strains most likely to cause genital warts and cervical cancer, respectively. Vaccination, as well as safer sex practices and STI testing every 6 months (unless you are monogamous) are the best ways to protect your cervical health.
5. Pap Smears Are Still Important
The frequency with which you are recommended to get a Pap smear (a cervical examination) if you’re under 30 is about every 3 years. However, if you do test positive for high-risk HPV, your doctor will recommend more frequent testing to see if abnormal cervical cells are growing.
Even if you do have an abnormal Pap smear, you can be totally fine – relax! – your doctor will recommend something called a colposcopy to make absolutely sure, and will let you know exactly how often you need to be checking up.
And remember, even if you’re vaccinated and sticking to a strict 3-year schedule for Pap smear, it’s still important that you get tested for other STIs on a regular basis, even if your sexual partner doesn’t have a penis or you’re not having penis-penetrative sex. We know sexual health screenings can seem scary, especially if you’re not sure what to expect, but they’re really no big deal!
They might feel a little awkward, but being responsible for your intimate health and safety will feel a lot less uncomfortable than some of the more unpleasant outcomes of ignoring it!
Colleen began her sexual wellness career as a sex toy educator in manufacturing and retail. She has since branched out as a writer and marketer, covering all facets of sexual health and anatomy. At Intimina, she specializes in women’s medical care and health concerns, menstruation, sex and pregnancy, and birth control. Colleen frequently confers with top sex educators and intimate wellness experts to stay on top of the constantly changing sexual wellness space.