I’ve been procrastinating when it comes to shedding light on this next subject however, I feel a sense of responsibility in spreading awareness. Warning: this is personal, this is recent and mostly – this is a reminder to be cautious when it comes to any form of sexual-contact.
I’ve approached my (few) physical relationships in two ways, realizing that love has made me careless and time has made me responsible. A few months ago I received some bad – but not the worst – news and felt frustrated that nothing was available to console me. I found all the online information cold and clinical, whilst forums described uncomfortable procedures without any kind of reassurance.
My most recent relationship was complicated. Whilst I would have preferred to use condoms, my ex-boyfriend detested the idea as they gave him no feeling. I found this the typical male reaction when using condoms – male friends have compared them to wearing latex gloves; saying they’d rather not have sex if compromising pleasure. To compensate, girlfriends of mine have given the whole “he takes it out before he ejaculates” thing – two of which ended up pregnant and the others alone with dirty sheets. Nice. But this is not to blame and shame, condoms are renowned for being a moment-killer, transforming spontaneity into something awkwardly mapped out.
In my last relationship I did what I thought would be most sensible; I went for an STI test and my then-boyfriend did the same. When all was fine, I went on the contraceptive pill Microgynon and felt that we were good to go! I have to emphasize that I really, really didn’t want to go on the pill – I just wanted to please my partner. Typical.
Whilst I understand most men prefer to go bare-back, we need to be more careful with how we protect our bodies. Around 80% of my friends have said their boyfriends “just won’t use condoms” or that “they say they will but then just slip it in”. Seriously?! Guys, if you care about your woman, or better still, women in general, perhaps learn to embrace the latex cling-on: wear it, own it and revel in the knowing that nobody is getting pregnant…or infected.
The amount of times I’ve caught urinary-tract infections due to unprotected sex is staggering. I have tearfully sat in warm baths, not knowing what’s happening to my body, enduring agony. I’ve visited A&E multiple times and had nurses accuse me of not rinsing out the sample bottle as bacteria-ridden skin has been floating in the liquid. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t fun and I can only compare the experience to pissing razorblades. As a result, I live with interstitial cystitis which no amount of scans, fluids and antibiotics can clear.
And that’s not where my story ends. In May 2015 I went for my first official smear-test and didn’t think much of it. It was only when I spoke to my nurse a couple of weeks later that I found myself at the brink of heart-attack. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE HIV??!!” I cried in a canteen full of co-workers. Luckily, I’d misheard her and had actually picked up a sexually transmitted infection called HPV (human papilloma virus) as well as having an abnormal cell count. With no physical symptoms, I had no idea where the virus was from or that it even existed. It was never picked up in my previous tests because it was found on my cervix and also:-
MEN CANNOT BE TESTED FOR IT.
It’s all well and good when guys say “I’m clean – I’ve been tested”. But the truth is, unless they’ religiously use condoms, they could never really know. To top it off, there is no official cure; our immune systems fight off the infection naturally however, having already been single and alone for 6 months prior to the smear, it seemed my body was failing me. It’s also worth mentioning that Big Brother’s Jade Goody died from was cervical cancer and HPV was a trigger for this. Sigh.
The NHS weren’t able to provide me with a colposcopy for 6 weeks – which would have meant 6 weeks of sleepless nights (I’m a hypochondriac and suffer from chronic health anxiety). In the end my mother paid £1500 for a piece of my cervix to be removed along with an internal scan. Despite the cost, we felt it necessary due to myself having no awareness or knowledge of a virus I can only cure alone.
Loads of girls have HPV, even in my social circle. My friends kept it a secret because they felt embarrassed and ashamed. Think about the girls living under poverty-stricken conditions, who don’t have the luxury of smear tests, contraceptives, vitamins and immune-boosting foods? We need to talk about this, it’s not embarrassing, it’s essential.
We can avoid the risk of disease by using condoms and going for smears. Your partner should also support you on this, your health is more important than a sexual preference. We should be stronger. If you want your man to use a condom – make him use a condom. Don’t be ignorant by thinking you’re safe because you’re not.
I felt so low finding out I had HPV; let down by the partners I’d trusted with my body. I just wanted to be left alone in every sense. All potential suitors were held at arm’s length: ”Hey buddy, don’t shake my hand unless you’ve put a condom on it” – ha! Luckily, results showed my HPV to be the weakest type – my cells aren’t in fact abnormal. The relief was great, but taking care of myself is now top priority the way it should have always been.