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The Real Tea On HPV: The Most Common Sexually Transmitted Infection

What You Need To Know About HPV

Women's Health

Although I can't recall the exact content of sex education back in middle school or the more recent events of high school, I do recall that we did discuss sexually transmitted diseases in depth. Logically so, given that they're viewed as the medieval key hoped to keep chastity on lock. Despite the use of herpes, chlamydia, and HIV as a scare tactic to ward off pre-marital penile to pussy penetration because let's face it -- that's the only thing it's stopping -- the one STI that we hadn't covered was Human Papillomavirus, or HPV. And although my mom had made mention of it and my getting vaccinated, I knew nothing of this virus outside the fact that there was now a vaccine to tame certain strains.

With little awareness of HPV, I never followed up with the second and third shots in the vaccination series -- rendering it useless to my sexual health. Although 13 and sexually active, I never thought twice about going back for those shots or that virus until I contracted HPV in my early twenties (an age range that has been statistically proven to see an influx in the virus). I wouldn't go as far as saying it's nearly as common as a common cold but, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, almost every person who is sexually active will get the virus at some point in their life.

After confirming that I had the virus with a colposcopy, my doctor assured me that this was common amongst women my age. Furthermore, I was not a unicorn being hunted down by a cruel existence but simply that it had to be monitored and would require me coming in twice a year now instead of once until it went away completely. However, the stigma surrounding the term "sexually transmitted" disease, infection, or anything related makes it difficult to hear any of that bedside manner -- particularly when it's happening to you.

Sadly, even now, I feel uninformed about what's going on with my body. Off the top of my head, I couldn't tell you what strain I carry, just that whatever strain I've got raised red flags for the future of my sexual health due to the increased risk of cervical cancer.

In the name of staying educated with my own body and making sure you, my fellow sis, are educated as well here are some important things you should know about HPV. Plus, I reached out to certified Family Medicine MD and General Preventive Medicine Trainee at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Wilnise Jasmin, to be sure we were both getting the best information possible.

What You Need To Know About HPV

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What’s the 411 on HPV?

Dr. Jasmin informs us that "the Human Papillomavirus is a term used to describe a group of over 100 different virus strains." Papilloma is a reference to a type of tumor that is typically benign and "grows in a finger-like projection from a body surface." In fact, Dr. Jasmin adds that papillo is a Latin root word that translates to "finger-like" or "wart-like." While "the Greek suffix -oma means forming tumors or masses."

Getting a call back for a colposcopy, a test where your doctor will examine your cervix, doesn't necessarily mean that you have cancer or warts. It may simply mean that you're carrying strains that put you at high risk of cervical cancer, along with several other types of cancer that include cancer of the mouth, vulva, vagina, penis, or rectum.

HPV Is a Numbers Game

The many various strains of HPV could likely be a featured numerical algorithm in the Matrix, or at least that's the way it feels. Slight exaggeration? You decide for yourself, the known strains of HPV include types: 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. These are the strains that the current vaccine (9 Valent) works to keep at bay and the ones that we know the most about. Of those, the low risk strains have been identified as type 6 and 11 -- the two associated with and likely the cause of warts. The remaining strains are high risk, one of which I have, and they're linked to the cancers that I mentioned just before we arrived here.

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Don’t Get Caught Slipping 

Unlike other sexually transmitted infections, the human papilloma virus is one that has a vaccination to protect us against it or at least a handful of HPV types. This vaccination is known as Gardasil, but it's p.c. name is 9 Valent.

You can get this vac as young as 11-12; in fact Dr. Jasmin says it's recommended that you take your children to get the vaccination according to these CDC standards. For those who have missed that window, don't panic, just schedule an appointment with your physician to get vaccinated! Dr. Jasmin says that the United States Food and Drug Administration upped the age not too long ago, approving women and men from the ages of 27 through 45 to get vaccinated. Previously, the vaccination was only considered for those ranging in ages from 11 to 26.

Dr. Jasmin tells us that even if you've already contracted HPV, it's still recommended that you get the vaccination as it will protect you from the development of a new strain. She further adds:

"All women, men, and gender non-conforming individuals ages 45 and younger should be vaccinated against HPV. If they do not have a primary care provider, they should contact their local or state health department to find a location that is able to provide them with the vaccine. A primary care provider can help ensure that you receive the appropriate screens at the correct intervals based on your individual risk factors."

Being Diagnosed with HPV: Next Steps

If you've already been diagnosed, you should absolutely not freak the f*ck out as I did when my doctor told me I had contracted HPV. Not going to hold you, all I heard was "STI" and the human reaction is to lose it because, like it or not, progression or not, there is still a stigma attached to that acronym. Admittedly, part of that fear and shame comes from not knowing, so here we are...knowing, learning, and growing. The first thing you should know is that HPV usually works itself out within two years, but until then, it's critical that you schedule and attend follow up visits per doctor's orders. Dr. Jasmin refers to this process as "active monitoring", which will allow you and your physician to stay in the know to ensure that the strain doesn't develop into "cancerous tissue." She further states that the earlier we catch these types of new developments, the sooner we can intervene.

Unless, your diagnosis has proven to be symptomatic (warts or cancerous tissue are present), there won't be a treatment and there is no cure -- so it's literally just a waiting game. Even then, Dr. Jasmin warns that while warts and cancerous growths can be removed, they can also reappear, reminding us once more the importance of receiving your screening.

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Speak Up, Sis

Although HPV is common -- actually, the most common STI says Dr. Jasmin, as it is currently infecting 80 million people in the US or one in four -- it is still a venereal disease, meaning that you should tell your partner once your gyni has spotted it.

The caveat here is that it can be difficult to determine the who and when, as in when you initially contracted it and who you contracted it from or possibly spread it to. According to Dr. Jasmin, this has a lot to do with the fact that HPV is so common and also the fact that the symptoms can take years to develop. That said, it's super important to protect ourselves and this includes wrapping it up during oral sex. Female condoms can be a lot, other options include cutting a male condom to provide your partner with protection when going down on you. Here's how.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

STDs: Why You Should Test With Your Partner - Read More

The Day I Learned I Could PrEp Against HIV - Read More

What I Wish Someone Told Me About Having Sex - Read More

Originally published November 11, 2018

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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