Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fighting the Stigma of HPV

Unfortunately HPV, like other sexually transmitted infections, carries with it a stigma. I believe that this stigma is misplaced from the start. HPV is actually transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and it just so happens that genital contact is indeed a form of skin-to-skin contact. However, unlike other STI's, HPV does not require intercourse for transmission. Ongoing research continues to show transmission via other methods with some even suggesting kissing as a potential means of transmission as well as foamites (inanimate objects). So should HPV really be classified as an STI?

Stigmas are not new and continue to inflict emotional pain upon those carrying the label. In the case of HPV, such stigmas can have devastating effects when they function to silence the person infected. The embarrassment may prevent them from speaking to anyone, including those who may be able to shed more light on the virus. In the worst case, it can prevent the individual from seeing their doctor, or by the time they do, it's too late.

The ones that come to mind most often are slut, tramp, hoe, hussy and a host of others all involving the woman's sexual history and number of sexual partners. Just like getting pregnant only takes one act of intercourse so too is true of acquiring the HPV virus.

Personally, I find it very insulting when I hear people on TV joking about STI's. It makes me angry because this person is so oblivious to the harm they are perpetrating. This doesn't have to be only on TV but those people just have such a vast audience to whom they can spread their ignorance. To them it's funny.

Then again there are those who know exactly what they are doing, their actions are intentional, a case of spreading the sentiment that whomever has the humanpapilloma virus got what they deserved. Obviously the underlying message is that those with HPV have done something wrong.

Until people are educated regarding the facts about HPV nothing will change. Education needs to emphasize that HPV is contracted via skin-to-skin contact and that most importantly, the cancers caused by the most common strains of HPV, are preventable. Perhaps if people understood that HPV is also responsible for cancers of the lung, head/neck, throat and other non-sexual organs, they would be open to a more meaningful discussion.

Take advantage of any opportunity to correct those with a misperception about HPV. Learn as much as you can yourself about HPV so you can correct those misperceptions. It is alarming the number of women who still have never heard of HPV. If you are reading this then you are ahead of many others.