“Jessa has HPV, like a couple of different strains of it. She says that all adventurous women do.” This line uttered by Shoshanna on HBO’s Girls was a watershed moment where so much of the stigma and fear around HPV was removed. And in a way, that’s a very good thing: the Human Papilloma Virus is by far the most prevalent STI, infecting an astonishing 3/4 of the sexually active population. It’s estimated that 80% of all women will be exposed to the virus at some point in their life.The breaking down of the stigma surrounding something that affects pretty much everyone lets us breathe a little easier and seek treatment without shame.
Of course, the best thing is for HPV to not just seem less dangerous, but actually less dangerous. “Adventurous women” quip is funny, but what’s not funny is the staggering statistics: According to the Center for Disease Control, 14 million Americans are infected with HPV every year, and 4,000 women die from cervical cancer caused by certain strains of HPV. 90% of these deaths are completely preventable.
The great news is that Gardasil 9, a preventative HPV vaccine against 9 common strains, has just been approved by the FDA for women and men from 27 to 45 years old. Previously, only people up to 26 were able to receive Gardasil 9, which helps prevent genital warts, cervical cancers, oral cancers, vulvar, vaginal, and cervical precancerous legions.
Why were people over 26 cut off from something so obviously helpful? In 2006, when the vaccine was first approved, it was originally intended for children aged 11-12 because it is most effective prior to any HPV exposure.
HPV is transmitted through genital contact as well as intercourse, which means it can’t be averted through condoms. So a vaccine is the only way to protect yourself against HPV; and even if you have a strain of HPV already, it’s beneficial to get Gardacil against other common strains.
Gardacil 9 should be covered by insurance for those through 45–without insurance, the full series of 3 doses costs around $400.
Our advice? Talk to your doctor about Gardacil if you haven’t received it when you were an adolescent. Being adventurous is much more fun if you know you don’t have to worry about getting sick.
Have you been vaccinated?
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Photo: Max Rovensky on Unsplash