Last year, while I was home for spring break, I received a call from Yale University Health Services informing me that my pap smear was abnormal. This could indicate, the nurse told me, either Human Papillomavirus or cancer. I calmly asked her what I should do next, but on the other side of the phone, I was crumbling. Both options sounded terrifying. As soon as I hung up, I ran to my parent’s room to tell them. The next day I went to my gynecologist to redo my pap, take a microbiopsy of my uterus and do an HPV exam. I didn’t have cancer, but I had HPV.
Through treatment that resembles chemical peeling of the uterus, I was able to remove the abnormal cells. The specialist told me that the disease immediately became inactive and that pap smears in the future could confirm that it was gone. I’ve had three smears since and no signs of abnormal cells, indicating that I no longer have HPV and cannot transmit it to sexual partners in the future.
That’s a recap of my sexually transmitted infection, but there’s a lot more to the story. I only got tested to support a friend, who was too scared to get tested on her own. I had a boyfriend to whom I was faithful, and he was the only person I’d had sex with since I’d come to Yale. After the first month or so, we had stopped using condoms since we had both been tested in the past. I walked into the testing room confident that I was “clean.” Turns out I was wrong — big time. I thought I didn’t need the testing and my friend did. It turns out I was the one with HPV, and she was healthy. If you’re sexually active you need to get tested, regardless of how careful you’ve been or how sure you are of your health and the health of your partner. We may assume we know someone, and maybe we do, but they might not know themselves. My boyfriend at the time told me he did not know he had HPV, and I believe him.
HPV, like many STIs, is tricky in that most times it goes undetected. HPV is unique in that unless you have a specific type (a type which the Gardasil vaccine makes you immune to), chances are it will cure itself. My type of HPV would have cured itself if I hadn’t found it. Most STIs, however, do not go away by themselves. But most are easily curable if you catch them early enough, which is why getting tested is so important. If my HPV had been one of the kinds that could have led to cervical cancer, my doctor told me that the infection was recent enough that they would have been able to prevent it.
Sex Week at Yale is upon us and the Reproductive Rights Action League at Yale has organized an amazing campaign that makes getting tested even easier than before. Take advantage of this resource and get your testing done. It’s quick, it’s painless and it will help keep you healthy. Knowing what is going on in your body is crucial to your sexual health — go find out.
Julia Averbuck is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College and the volunteer coordinator of Sex Week at Yale.