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Fighting the Stigma of HPV

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Unfortunately HPV, like other sexually transmitted infections, carries with it a stigma. I believe that this stigma is misplaced from the start. HPV is actually transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and it just so happens that genital contact is indeed a form of skin-to-skin contact.

However, unlike other STIs, HPV does not require intercourse for transmission. Ongoing research continues to show transmission via other methods with some even suggesting kissing as a potential means of transmission as well as foamites (inanimate objects). So should HPV really be classified as an STI?

Stigmas are not new and continue to inflict emotional pain upon those carrying the label. In the case of HPV, such stigmas can have devastating effects when they function to silence the person infected.

The embarrassment may prevent them from speaking to anyone, including those who may be able to shed more light on the virus. In the worst case, it can prevent the individual from seeing their doctor, or by the time they do, it's too late.

The ones that come to mind most often are slut, tramp, ho, hussy and a host of others all involving the woman's sexual history and number of sexual partners. Just like getting pregnant only takes one act of intercourse, the same is true of acquiring the HPV virus.

Personally, I find it very insulting when I hear people on TV joking about STIs. It makes me angry because this person is so oblivious to the harm they are perpetrating.

This doesn't have to be only on TV but those people just have such a vast audience to whom they can spread their ignorance. To them it's funny.

Then again there are those who know exactly what they are doing, their actions are intentional -- a case of spreading the sentiment that whoever has the human papillomavirus got what they deserved. Obviously the underlying message is that those with HPV have done something wrong.

Until people are educated regarding the facts about HPV nothing will change. Education needs to emphasize that HPV is contracted via skin-to-skin contact and that most importantly, the cancers caused by the most common strains of HPV are preventable.

Perhaps if people understood that HPV is also responsible for cancers of the lung, head/neck, throat and other non-sexual organs, they would be open to a more meaningful discussion.

Take time to correct those with a misperception about HPV. Learn as much as you can yourself about HPV so you can correct those misperceptions. It is alarming the number of women who still have never heard of HPV. If you are reading this then you are ahead of many others.


Trantham, Maureen. "HPV still surrounded by stigma | The Daily of the University of Washington." The Daily of the University of Washington. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2011.

Walter J. et al, "The association between knowledge of HPV a... [Sex Transm Infect. 2007] - PubMed - NCBI." National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2011.

Dealing with the Social Stigma and Misconceptions attached to HPV – HPV Health Blog." HPV, HPV Virus, HPV Symptoms, HPV Treatment – HPV Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2011.

Reviewed September 15, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment2 Comments

Great for you! Sounds like you're a great advocate for HPV. As to the shame issue, it is my opinion that shame is truly a woman's emotion and not one frequently expressed by males. I think this is why there was such a difference between HIV and HPV education and awareness.
Both these viruses were discovered in the same year but the HIV virus was killing mainly homosexual men at the time. The men did not succumb to feelings of shame and hide away in silence - instead they held very vocal rallys and created large groups of HIV supporters when it came to education, something women have YET to really do regarding HPV.
In addition, HPV is still to focused on cervical cancer which skews the general populations perception of the HPV virus.
Sometimes people will talk about HPV as no big deal but they may be talking about low risk HPV and this is a much different issue. I have seen cases like this whic his why I mention it. This also gives people the impression it is no big deal but without making the distinction between low risk and high risk HPV (which even THAT many people don't know about) the truth is really not understood.
Thank you for your support and please visit my website and forum at: thehpvsupportnetwork.org.

February 9, 2012 - 6:12am

Another great article! A lot of people I talk to don't know even the basics of STIs, especially HPV. When I talk about HPV I try to emphasize how most people have it and it's generally not an issue, but it's important to still get screened because it could turn into an issue at some point if you choose to ignore the possibilities.

February 8, 2012 - 10:48pm
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