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What is HPV? An OB/GYN Explains

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What is HPV? An OB/GYN Explains

I† just found out I have HPV. What is it?
HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is the most common sexually transmitted disease, and it will infect 75 percent of young women before the age of 50, if they donít get vaccinated. Itís the virus that causes genital and anal warts, abnormal pap smears, and cervical cancer. Even if youíre a virgin when you hook up with someone, you can end up with HPV — even if your partner has only slept with one other person.

This is not a disease of freaks and hoochies. (If it is, then Iím one of those hoochies, since I got it from my husband. Poor guy. He feels bad.) Even if youíre really careful, you can still get it, and next thing you know, youíve got genital warts and cervical cancer. While they do reduce the risk of transmission, condoms donít completely protect you, since your labia can touch the skin around your partnerís genitals, even with a condom on. All it takes is intimate genital touching between you and your partner.

Why is HPV so common and why is everyone talking about it?

The strains of HPV that tend to cause abnormal pap smears and cervical cancer donít cause any problems in men. So they donít even know they have it. Which means theyíre passing it around from woman to woman, like a beach ball. You gotta wonder when the guy says, ďOh, thatís so weird. ALL my girlfriends have had abnormal pap smears.Ē Duh, dude. Itís you!

What can happen to you if you catch HPV?

HPV can cause warts, abnormal pap smears, and cervical cancer. Usually, warts are caused by HPV types 6 and 11, the two most common strains. These strains cause problems for both men and women, since men can get genital warts and anal warts as well. Asking your partner if heís ever had warts can give you an idea of whether your partner might carry HPV.† But even if your partner says no, it doesnít mean youíre out of the woods. Some people carry the virus but their immune systems keep it from wreaking havoc on their genitals. Even so, they can shed the virus from their genitals and pass it along. Then if your immune system is weak one day, BOOM. There it is. Cauliflower crotch.

But warts are small potatoes, as far as HPV goes. HPV types 16 and 18 (the high risk types) can cause abnormal pap smears and cervical cancer.† Thatís why itís so important to get pap smears regularly. As long as you get your pap smear once a year, you will probably never get cancer. But you may very well wind up with an abnormal pap smear, the way I did. If that happens, youíll have to get a procedure called a colposcopy, which is a microscope we gynecologists use to get up-close-and-personal with your cervix to make sure thereís no cancer.

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the†Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of†Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.† She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.† Lissa blogs at† and also created two online communities -† and† She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


+ add your own
2:22AM PDT on Aug 28, 2012

Thank you

5:13PM PDT on Aug 27, 2012


5:13PM PDT on Aug 27, 2012


11:41AM PDT on Aug 27, 2012

Thank you for a very informative article.

7:02AM PDT on Aug 27, 2012

unless you know the person ,,,keep away from sex, too easy too pick something up....

8:30PM PDT on Apr 19, 2012

thanks :)

7:59PM PDT on Apr 18, 2012


11:09AM PST on Jan 27, 2011

Thank you for this. After reading another article on this site about the over-exaggerated "horrors" of the HPV vaccine, I'm glad to see there is a more reasonable article here as well. While I see, you've already been flooded by conspiracy theorists, I'd like to add another voice of reason as someone who ad the vaccine and will be sure to get her daughters vaccinated as well. Even someone who practices safe sex, who has every reason to trust their only partner can be cheated on. People here claim they'll just practice safe sex, but when your partner cannot be tested for this disease, all you can do is trust them and hope they don't have it. It can be contracted without sex. On top of that, people lie. People find out, all the time, that their long-term, "monogamous" partner has been cheating on them. Often there are no clues that your partner is cheating, but it happens. I'd rather protect myself as best I can. Considering my already weakened immune system, it's the best option for me.

10:52PM PST on Jan 7, 2011

Michelle M.
you do know that damage can be done without physical side effects.
You don't always know until its to late

10:46PM PST on Jan 7, 2011

The hpv Vaccine? Really....there are better ways to prevent HPV....besides the track record for that vaccine is Horrid!

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