I Contracted Genital Warts — Why I’m Not Ashamed

This is something I never talk about, but I’ve decided it’s time to take back my power and be as transparent as possible. I had a very hard time when this happened. I felt ashamed, dirty, and like no one would ever want to have sex with me again. Then I talked to some friends and realized that almost everyone I knew had HPV at some point, and a few others had contracted the strain that causes warts. Their matter-of-fact attitude about it helped me feel better about the whole ordeal, though I was quite glad when I finally became HPV-free. For those of you out there with the virus, there’s no reason to feel bad about yourselves. Here are a few great reasons why:

HPV is extremely common.

Of course, only a couple of strains cause genital warts. I was one of the unlucky few to get them. Still, almost 80% of people contract the virus at some point in their lives. It’s practically like getting chicken pox at this point — a rite of passage. If you’re at all sexually active, there’s a chance that you are going to get some strain of it. It’s the harsh, annoying truth.

Genital warts are also more common than you think.

I was surprised that I knew anyone at all who had gotten them, but most people aren’t going around sharing their sexual health history with everyone they know. You’d be shocked at some of the stuff you’d find out about those around you if you had a brutally honest, oversharing discussion. There’s all kinds of weird crap going on. Warts are probably the least of your worries. It could be much worse!

Men are carriers of HPV but often show no symptoms.

Genital warts can remain dormant for years. You might never have an outbreak at all. You may have only one. Men are carriers of all strains of HPV, but unlike women, they aren’t tested for it. Thus a guy can be spreading HPV all over the place and have no idea. Yeah, it’s unfair, and it sucks. Unless he actually gets the warts sometime, he won’t have a clue that he’s giving you anything.

You can’t really know how or when you got it.

It’s hard to blame yourself for something you can’t control that well. The only way to help prevent getting HPV is to always use protection, and even that’s not a foolproof method. You don’t get it because you’re promiscuous, or sleeping with promiscuous guys. It’s common, and it goes away, and you should stop beating yourself up over it. If you had multiple partners in the time period before you were tested, you really can’t know how or when you got it. It can show up at any time.

HPV goes away on its own eventually.

Like most viruses, this will leave your system at some point. It does help to be healthy – get enough sleep, eat right, don’t drink too much, keep your immune system strong. Just like any other sickness, you have to fight it. No matter what, though, it will clear up. Even if it takes a while, the genital wart outbreak will likely clear up before the virus does.

There are ways to get rid of the warts themselves.

If you, like me, have a persistent outbreak that won’t go away no matter what you do, there are other methods of dealing. They aren’t super pleasant, but if you have a good gynecologist, the discomfort is minimal. You can get a prescription cream to apply directly on the warts to locally attack the virus. This method does sting, and it’s also not guaranteed to work all the time. What does work – as awful as it sounds – is having your doctor freeze the warts off for you. This doesn’t feel great. It is effective. It’s not guaranteed, however, that you will not have another outbreak.

It taught me to be more careful.

No, you can’t completely guard against getting HPV. You can take as many precautions as necessary not to get it though! Don’t be a dummy, honey. Use protection all the time. I know that it gets old and we all slip up, but it’s so much better to be safe than sorry.

It could’ve been worse.

Yes, it sucked. Luckily, they went away eventually and never came back. The following year I tested completely clean for HPV. There’s another little virus that starts with H and ends with V and that you definitely don’t want to get. The lesson here is to make sure you know your partner’s sexual history before you get down and dirty. Get actual documentation. Don’t mess around.

People who shame you are losers.

I mean, seriously. Anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself for something like this should go screw themselves. Everyone has their crap. Sometimes you do everything right and bad things still happen. Yes, you should be honest about what’s going on with anyone you know physically intimately. You should also respect it if they decide to remove themselves from the situation, as long as they do so in a kind manner. If they’re awful about it, well, you shouldn’t be sleeping with people like that anyway.

It taught me about myself.

It’s easy to be cool when everything is going well, but what do you do in a crisis? Can you stand tall and still respect yourself without crumbling at the seams or worrying that people will judge me? For me, the answer was no. This traumatic experience taught me to stand. I learned that the only way to get over the judgement of others is not to judge myself so harshly. I felt gross and dirty when I found out I had genital warts, but the bare truth of the matter is that I’m far from being the only one. Sharing my experience in others has allowed them, in turn, to open up to me about embarrassing occurrences in their pasts.

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