Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a category of infectious diseases that are passed from person to person during sex. They include viruses like herpes, HIV, and hepatitis, as well as bacteria such as chlamydia.
While there is still a stigma around talking about STIs, it is important to understand them – particularly in non-monogamous communities like the swinging lifestyle. We all want to protect ourselves. This is why education and regular testing are part of the swinger culture.
If you’ve found this page because you’ve been diagnosed with HPV – don’t panic. You should consult with your own medical doctor so you can be prescribed the best treatment for your own personal situation. If you feel a bit embarrassed about the subject, remember that almost everyone has at least one STI over their lifetime, and if caught early they are much easier to be treated and cured. Contracting an STI does not mean there is anything wrong with your hygiene, but that you might not be using sufficient safe sex practices.
Understanding Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
One of the most common STIs is a family of viruses known as the human papillomavirus – also known as ‘HPV’ (not to be confused with HIV – human immunodeficiency virus, or HSV – herpes simplex virus).
HSV is thought to be as common as the common cold, and an estimated 80 million people in the US alone are infected. There are more than 150 different strains of HPV, but the ones that cause the most concern are known as ‘high-risk HPV’.
Only a few strains of HPV are identified as high risk, and are associated with health problems such as genital warts and cancer. The vast majority of strains however, are symptomless, and do not cause any serious disease.
Symptoms of HPV
Because HPV is almost always symptomless, it spreads quickly as people unwittingly pass it from partner to partner. Even without symptoms, the virus is still infectious. If symptoms do occur, they can be quite unspecific and mild, and will require a medical doctors appointment to confirm a diagnosis. The symptoms tend to be genital warts. The warts will appear weeks or months after contact with a partner who is carrying the virus, and will look like small bumps around the genital area. Two types of HPV (type 6 and type 11) are responsible for most cases of genital warts. They don’t lead to cancer or any other serious health problem and are classified as a symptom of low-risk HPV.
HPV isn’t exclusively sexually transmitted. While using physical protective barriers (such as condoms and dental dams) can reduce the risk, any genital skin to skin contact can be enough for the virus to infect a new host. The virus needs direct skin to skin contact to be transmitted. Therefore, HPV can not spread through blood or body fluids (unlike STIs like HIV), and you cannot contract it from toilet seats, sharing food utensils, or swimming in pools.
HPV is linked to an increase in the risk of certain cancers, which include cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis and anus, as well as parts of the mouth and throat. At least 12 types of HPV have been identified as being linked to cancer, and these are known as high-risk HPV. HPV type 16 and 18 lead to the majority of HPV related cancer cases. High-risk HPV can cause mutations to occur in normal cells, and the abnormal cells can lead to the development of cancer over time.
Vaccine for HPV
Vaccination can lower the risk of men and women contracting HPV. Currently, there are three vaccines that have been approved in the US to protect against the virus, and they are effective against the strains that cause health problems.
The vaccines work best before someone has become infected, and so it is recommended by the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) that all children aged 11 and 12 should get the vaccine so they are protected before coming sexually active. The CDC has recommended that adults up to the age of 45 be vaccinated for HPV so there is a good chance your insurance company will cover the cost of your vaccination.
A diagnostic test for HPV does exist for women, and the best way for women to protect themselves and their partners is having regular screenings and pap smears (which detects any potentially cancerous cells in the cervix). However, there is currently no HPV test for men, though anal screening can be offered for men who have sex with other men as this is considered a more high risk activity in terms of contracting HPV.
The immune system is usually very competent at removing HPV from the body, and treatment is rarely needed (unlike other STIs which can require courses of antibiotics or antivirals). Research suggests that approximately 50 per cent of people with HPV will clear the virus within eight months, and a further 90 per cent will find themselves HPV negative within two years. Usually, it hasn’t caused any harm during this time. However, if your immune system is unable to fight off the virus, then the HPV may persist for longer, which can lead to complications.
If you have been diagnosed with HPV, make sure you return to the doctors every few months to check if it has been cleared and closely follow the directions from your own personal doctor.
The first step in HPV prevention is to be vaccinated against the high risk strains. Condoms and/or dental dams can lower the risk but not remove it completely since it can be transmitted from skin contact (eg thigh to thigh).
For more information please check out these HPV resources:
Remember you are special & unique so you should always consult your own medical doctor to address your personal health situation 🙂