When it comes to sexual health, cam models have two things stacked against them. First, they’re relatively low-risk for work-related sexually transmitted infections (STIs). So why worry about them? Second, models probably are independent contractors, which obviously means they get their money flat out. No taxes taken, no health insurance mandated, etc. Add to that the stigma wider society puts on STIs, along with how easy it is for most of us to ignore risky behavior in our personal lives — “It’s just this one time” — and you can see the perfect storm of ignoring sexual health brewing in your room.
You need to think about your sexual health. It can impact your work life and your personal life. And one of the most sneaky, commonplace, yet highly overblown STIs out there is HPV.
The human papillomavirus, better known as HPV, is everywhere. I’m not trying to scare you. In fact, that’s the last thing I want to do. See, I know for a fact that I have HPV, and yet I still spend my days smiling under the sun and enjoying life. That’s because I know that my friends probably have HPV too, as well as many of my sexual partners, and shoot, even my gynecologist and the mail carrier. As the CDC puts it, “HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.”
So much shame is associated with something that more than 79 million people — men and women — have. Yes, you read that number right. It is literally the most common sexually transmitted infection there is, and yet the wider social conversation about it is startlingly minimal. That’s why the stigma has become what it is today. We aren’t talking about it, and the little that is discussed is focused on the vaccine (typically Gardasil, though there is more than one) and cervical cancer. While it’s definitely true that HPV shouldn’t be shrugged off like it’s another electricity bill you’re not going to pay on time (that’s not just me, right?), I’m here to tell you the reality of HPV is far less serious than the stigma.
HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, meaning condoms don’t fully protect us from getting it (or giving it). There are more than 100 different types of HPV, and most clear the body naturally after a year or two. Of all the types that exist, there are only nine that could potentially lead to cancer or genital warts.
The key word here is potentially by the way. If you’re infected with a type of HPV that is considered “high-risk,” don’t be alarmed. It doesn’t mean you are doomed to get cervical cancer. As the American Sexual Health Organization puts it, “These are known as the ‘high-risk’ types, not because they usually or frequently cause cancer — in fact, cervical cancer is a rare disease in the United States today, and penile cancer even more so — but because, in the infrequent event that cancer does develop, it can usually be traced back to one of these types.” That’s why it’s important to stick to annual pap smears. As uncomfortable as those cold metal clamps are, they’re making sure our cervix isn’t starting to form cancer cells. Cervical cancer takes 10 to 20 years to form in the body, which is why it’s highly preventable. It can be caught extremely early and nipped in the bud.
This brings me to the vaccine. Did you know HPV vaccines don’t clear you of every type of HPV? If you’ve been vaccinated, don’t think you’re in the clear — just know you’re protecting yourself from getting the types of HPV that are considered the most “high risk.” When it comes to genital warts, as unsightly as they may be, bear in mind they are almost always benign.
There currently is no way to test for HPV in men. While it’s true there is a possibility an HPV infection can lead to certain cancers in men, the chances are minimal. The American Sexual Health Organization also says, “The survival rate for those with HPV-positive head and neck tumors is 85 percent in non-smoking people. The survival rate drops down to 45-50 percent for smokers.” It is now strongly encouraged that young boys get the HPV vaccine too, which is good news for future generations of horny young adults.
As of now, the responsibility for knowing whether one has HPV lies on women. Like most things in life, we bear more of the burden, even regarding something most of us show no symptoms or signs of having. That’s how it’s so easily spread. Remember, of the 100 types, only nine are considered “high-risk.” An estimated 80 percent of sexually active people contract some type of HPV at some point in their life. Does that mean 80 percent of us are deviants? No.
If anyone tries to shame you for having HPV, shove this article in their face and tell them the truth: If you’re engaging in sex of any kind, you probably have it too. Awareness is the number one way to break the stigma.
Sonia Stevens is a writer-comedian who picks apart the absurdities women face daily. Email her at Sonia.Stevens@ynotcam.com.