The development of the Gardasil vaccine has been a major breakthrough in preventative medicine. It covers four types of HPV – 6, 11, 16 and 18. The first two cause warts, and the latter are linked to cervical cancer. It is now given to all young people, especially girls, before they are likely to be sexually active, in order to protect them from HPV. Highly effective, this promises to virtually eliminate warts, and the scourge of cervical cancer.
Women who are too old to have been inoculated must continue to have regular pap smears, where a sample of cervical tissue is taken, and tested for cancer cells. Early detection increases the chances of successful treatment.
As sexual practices change, there is increasing evidence of other, less common, but equally dangerous conditions that can be caused by HPV. More heterosexual couples are engaging in oral and anal sex, and other practices once associated with the gay community. As a result, warts have been found in the throat and anus, some of which are becoming cancerous. It seems the tissue in the anus is more susceptible to infection than that in the vagina.
At last year’s Sexology in Practice Symposium, Dr Armin Ariana gave a paper entitled «Oral Sex and Oral Health», in which he explained that he is now teaching dentistry students about this, as they do not have training in STIs and oral symptoms, especially in younger people.
Carrying the stigma of having an STI has probably taken its toll on your sexual self-esteem. The truth is that contracting any STI does not mean that you are dirty, promiscuous, or immoral. If you have carried this fear for a long time it might help to get some counselling in order to overcome negative feelings.
If you decide to have a sexual relationship, simply observe the usual safer sex protocols, in particular the use of barrier methods, such as condoms and dental dams. While standard condoms often taste horrible, flavoured condoms are surprisingly versatile. If you cannot find a supplier of dental dams, you can quickly make a barrier sheet from a flavoured condom. Remove it from the packet without unrolling it, and cut off the tip. Next, cut through one side. When opened out, you will have a sheet of latex that can be stretched over the vulva and anal area through which you can give pleasure without skin-to-skin contact, or any exchange of body fluids.
To find accurate and up to date information about all aspects of sexual health, visit the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (mshc.com.au). They also offer a range of services, including confidential testing for STIs, and counselling.
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