UPDATED: 26TH FEBRUARY 2022 // I attended my first cervical screening back in 2017, a day before my 25th birthday. Yes, I’m THAT person who didn’t want to wait an extra second longer than I had to to have it done. Since then, I’ve been talking about my experience of colposcopy, HPV and cervical screenings and ‘doing my bit’ so to speak to try and encourage more women to go for their smears and also try and normalize the conversation around the HPV virus.
British YouTuber Zoe Sugg posted a video of her attending a LIVE smear test on her channel, along with a chat with the nurse about some common questions she gets asked surrounding cervical screenings. I thought this was a great video. With a platform as big as hers, there’s no doubt she’s opened a dialogue.
But what I wanted to focus on today, was HPV and cervical screenings. Most people know what a cervical screening is but I feel like there’s not the same conversation around the HPV virus, what it is and what it can cause.
PSA before we continue: I’m not a medical professional and all information in this post is based off of my own experience, my body and my own research. If you have any problems or worries, you should contact your GP. I have HPV and here’s what I’ve learnt about it over the years.
Firstly, what IS HPV?
HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is a group of common viruses and are spread and shared through penetrative sex, oral sex, sharing sex toys or any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area of anyone who’s got the virus. It’s the most common STD.
There are over 100 different strains of the HPV virus. Some strains cause foot warts, hand warts, genital warts and others can contribute towards different cancers, including cervical cancer. But a lot of people will have HPV and never know about it because it never causes any symptoms and your immune system helps the virus leave the body on its own.
What’s my deal with HPV and cervical screenings?
Back when I was around 16/17 and had my first “proper” boyfriend, I developed genital warts. I didn’t know they were a form of HPV at the time. All I knew is they were annoying and hurt like HELL to get removed (like, imagine sticking your fanny to the arctic circle).
Obviously I now know that genital warts were caused by a low-risk strain of HPV. Genital warts are crap. But they’re not dangerous.
It was then when I got my results back from my first cervical screening that I found out I also had the high-risk strain, which can cause cell changes in the cervix and lead to cervical cancer, if not found and treated.
UPDATE 26TH FEBRUARY 2022:
I decided to update this post as HPV Awareness Day was coming up. It’s been 4 years since I had that first cervical screening which came back HPV positive and unfortunately, I still have HPV and had to attend another colposcopy back in 2021. Fortunately, they found no changes, so once again, I’m back to 3 yearly cervical screenings.
UPDATE 10TH FEBRUARY 2023: I circled back to this post again now that HPV Awareness Day is coming up again. Nothing new to report since last year. I still have HPV but as no abnormalities have been found, I’m still on my 3-year call backs for cervical screenings. My next routine smear will be in 2024.
How can I protect myself against HPV?
HPV is such a common STD that it’s almost impossible to protect yourself fully, unless you haven’t had any form of sex before. Practicing safe sex is always worth doing, especially with a new partner or during casual sex. It’s also worth getting the HPV vaccine if you’re able and haven’t already.
I had the vaccine when I was in school so it’s important to remember that having the vaccine doesn’t make you immune to high-risk HPV entirely – as is the case with me. But it still reduces the risk. When I was at school, it was only girls that had the vaccine but from September 2019, both boys and girls are offered it in school.
A boy can carry a high-risk strain of HPV and then pass it on to a girl. Of course a strain which can cause cervical cancer or cervical cell changes in a girl won’t have any symptoms in a boy, so he’ll never know he’s got it. But he can still pass it on to someone who could be affected. If you didn’t have the vaccine in school, you can have it done at your GP up until you’re 25.
And the main thing?
Have your cervical screening. It’s one of the most important things you can do for your health as a female. There is no other test for HPV. The only way to find out if you have it and are at higher risk of cervical changes, is by having your cervical screening.
As with me, if they find you have HPV, then you’ll be sent for a colposcopy. A test which enables them to take a closer look at the cervix and to see the extent of abnormal cells (if any), whether treatment is required and what the next steps will be.
99.7% of cervical cancers are caused by infection with a high-risk strain of HPV. So staying on top of it is so important, I really can’t stress it enough. Cervical screenings aren’t easy for everyone for a variety of reasons. If nerves and anxiety is stopping you, check out this post about tackling your smear fear.
A final word on HPV and cervical screenings
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection and STD’s and the topic around them aren’t looked at too positively. The words dirty, unclean or gross might come to mind about someone who’s had or has had a STD. Because that’s just society! But HPV is SO COMMON. And it’s not talked about nearly enough.
Most people will have a strain (or more) of HPV at some point in their lives. And never know about it. But the more we do know about it and talk about it, the safer for everyone. HPV and cervical screenings come hand in hand and knowledge is power. Having HPV doesn’t make you dirty or unclean or unsafe.
This is a fantastic and informative post for anyone who could, potentially, develop HPV. We didn’t learn much about it growing up, we got the injection intended to prevent it but not with much explanation.
Yes same, we were given NO information when we got the vaccine either. Thank you x
[…] super grateful for being vaccinated against COVID-19 and for the NHS. I’ve had to have some repeat cervical screenings over the last few years for HPV and I’m grateful for the amazing free service they provide us […]
This is quite the post to read. I had no idea that boys could be offered the vaccine, until now. It just shows how much we aren’t really told either in school or in our communities regarding HPV. It still is considered quite a taboo topic, which is unfortunate. I think that people would benefit from learning more about these types of things and trying to make themselves be in the know, and be updated as much as they can be. Thank you for sharing!
It’s still so taboo sadly!
Thanks for this post, it was really reassuring. I’ve had HPV for the past three years so I’ve now been referred for a colposcopy – had a bit of a breakdown about it earlier. Love x
I’m sorry to hear that! If you need some reassurance then I have a blog post about colposcopy as I’ve had two; you’ll be fine!
This is such an important topic. I had my HPV vaccine at school but its great that boys are now vaccinated too.
It’s brilliant, I don’t know why they weren’t initially x
It’s good people talk more openly about stuff like this now so people can be more aware. x
I’m so glad we talk more openly about HPV than we used too, especially for boys!
Yes! Boys need to know about this too for sure x
I had my smear last week, and I was dreading it. I had an awful time with my first one, found it excruciating and the nurse I had that day only made me feel worse about the experience. So going back while still a bit anxious about the doctors office and covid was pretty stressful for me. But obviously they’re important so had to suck it up and deal with it. You’re so right, we’re not really told an awful lot about HPV beyond go to get your screening, it was only this year I realised how common it is and how likely we all are to get a strain at some point and that not be a big deal at all. I wasn’t vaccinated at school so always have a low level dread that they’ll find something. Got my first dose and was off the day they were doing the second ones, didn’t realise until quite some time after that I’d missed it. And only found at at 26 that you can get them up until 25, IMAGINE the frustration when I realised I was about 6 months too late. Thanks for sharing this, it’s really informative and touches on a side of things we should all probably have more awareness of. I’m glad there were no changes in your cells and you can go back to regular screening!
Ugh how frustrating that you were only 6 months out from having it. I hope your smear last week went okay and it was even slightly better than the first one? The nurse / doctor who does it can have such a big impact on how you feel about them x
I’ve read some stuff that says one dose can provide you with decent protection, so apparently the one I had will still help, just wish I’d been able to get the proper dose. MUCH better. Oddly, it was the same nurse but she was a million times better this time. Only uncomfortable, not really painful. My cervix was hiding this time so it was a quite painful when she had to hunt for it but the rest of it was fine. So so so much more pleasant than last time.
I regularly get pap smears done, which can detect abnormal cells. It’s so fast, easy & super important! Thank you for talking about these things.
Lots of love,
Krissi of the marquise diamond
This is such an important and informative post. I’ve had 2 cervical screenings so far with my third one due this year. Definitely not a fun experience but a very important one. I wish they’d been things out like this post when I was younger.
Absolutely. Hope your third one goes well!
I’m going for my second smear soon as I feel it’s my duty to myself and to others to normalise having the procedure done. This post has raised so much awareness Jenny x
Lucy | http://www.lucymary.co.uk
Hope it all goes well!
What an insightful post, Jenny. I have to admit it, I had no much clue about HPV and your post helped me understand everything a little more, which I will be forever grateful for. More effort in talking about all these should be made, and I am now off to read a little more about it thanks to you!
Thank you. Things like this need to be taught thoroughly in school, it’s ridiculous that it’s not.
This such an important post which you’ve really written well. I didn’t know much about HPV but now I’m clued up and I can’t thank you enough for that. Everyone thinks this is such a ‘taboo’ subject but it’s something that women really need to talk about! I know younger me (and me now tbh) would have really appreciated reading a post like this. Thank you so much for opening up lovely, it’s much appreciated! Xo
Elle – ellegracedeveson.com
Thank you, glad you learned something from this post lovely xxx
This is so, so helpful! I actually only found out this year that I didn’t get the HPV vaccine as part of the school ones (apparently we were on holiday and my mum forgot to reschedule with our GP). It’s great to know you can get it up until 25! xx
Ah really! It’s great they still offer it though! Xx
I didn’t realize so many people weren’t aware of HPV & Cervical Cancer screenings. This was such an insightful post. I got my vaccines when I was in middle school & I remember it being advertised a lot back then.
It does surprise me when people know so little about it x
This is so important to talk about and to bring awareness to it! Thanks so much for doing so!
Thank you x
It’s important to note that once infected by the virus, it remains forever. No treatments are effective in removing the virus, however, early detection can prevent from cervical cancer by scrapping of the cells. I find this to be a very personal subject and I commend you on your efforts to bring awareness. Thank you for your vulnerability to open up and share.
This is a very important message and having regular cervical screening is so vital. Although I don’t like it, I always make sure I go. Thank you for sharing.
Lauren – http://www.bournemouthgirl.com
I don’t think anyone really likes it but it’s so important. Thank you xx
Such an important post! Something that is not talked about enough. I’ve seen in the news they want to reduce the number of screenings which is worrying. I was so nervous for my first screening but it was absolutely fine!
I hate that they want to do that! I’ve signed petitions to try and stop it. It’s so dangerous.
[…] Related read: HPV and Cervical Screenings – Let’s Talk About It […]
[…] Related read: HPV & Cervical Screenings – Let’s Talk About It […]
[…] Book an appointment you’ve been putting off (like your cervical screening) […]
I’ve possibly commented before on this but I love that you’re talking about it. I was just telling a friend the other day that she needs to get her first smear done. It might be uncomfortable but go! It’s better than leaving it until it’s too late.
Absolutely! I don’t think you can really talk about it enough.
I’m so overdue for a smear test, so thank you for reminding me to get it done! I’ll be booking one in the morning. I actually didn’t know very much about HPV at all – the vaccines etc didn’t kick in until I’d already left school – so this was incredibly informative. I need to do some more research (and obviously, have my smear test!) but you’ve given me a lot to think about – thank you!
I’m so glad this has given you to nudge to book yours!
This is such an informative post and one that really needs to be out there! 🙂
Sarah 🌺 || Boxnip || Latest Post
You’ve prompted me to get my next one booked in as I’m overdue so thank you for that, so important!
I’m so glad! x
As someone who had to have pre-cancerous cells removed it infuriates me that women just don’t go for their screenings!
Sorry to hear that but I totally agree with you – it’s infuriating actually x
This is such an important post and I’m happy to see more awareness being made on this subject.
Thank you 😌
They are SO important, not the nicest to get done, but would 100% recommend doing it!
Erin || MakeErinOver
This is a great post and a really good reminder. I have HPV and get a screen every year since i was 21. Ive always had womesn problems 🙁
Ah no! At least you’re taking the right precautions!
I had the vaccine in school too, and even though I had some really bad side effects, I would never not have it!
Love, Amie ❤
The Curvaceous Vegan
It’s really important to have x
I applaud you for talking so openly about your experience! I had really bad anxiety around cervical cancer and like you the second I got my letter I was straight on the phone to book it! It’s so important to go for regular screenings – so many women still don’t go out of embarrassment and talking about it openly will hopefully encourage more to go xx
This is such a powerful post, well done you for being so brave and candid about your experience.
Hopefully this helps to raise lots of awareness!
I had the vaccine done at boots years ago and also go for regular smear tests xx
That’s great to hear x
Great reminder that we need to normalise talking about these difficult and uncomfortable topics!
Thank you! Totally agree x
A really really important topic. I can’t quite get my head around the not going thing.
My Mum had cancer and I would be tested for EVERY type of cancer if I could, probably weekly!!
Great, informative post Jenny, thank you for sharing x
I can’t get my head around it either tbh x
Thank you for such a frank and honest post on this. Female sexual health is so important considering you can’t see most of what’s going on down there but it’s something we shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about!
Ashleigh | http://www.ashmosphere.com
Agreed – it’s still so taboo and I don’t know why! x
Neat post! I love how you are joining in and talking about little things like this that often remain behind closed lips.
Thank you x
I was the first group of girls to get the HPV vaccine in my last year of primary school. I think it’s great that they are beginning to give it to boys too.
I haven’t had a cervical screening yet, but after having a copper IUD inserted (and removed because it was a nightmare) I think I should be good to go!
I definitely think it ought to be spoken about more.
Thanks for a great post!
Oh you should be fine, I’ve heard they’re not the most pleasant things to have! x
I can’t believe I’ve reached the age I have without knowing anything about the HPV virus. I do agree with you STDs tend to be swept under the carpet and they don’t have a good reputation. But they are so common and the alarming thing is how easily they’re transmitted. I wasn’t aware you could have a vaccine either, or that they can come and go from our bodies. I do have regular smear tests (if you can call every three years regular, but you know what I mean) and so far so clear, but I really appreciate this in depth article, it’s really helpful. Also, I’m never not going to associate “sticking your fanny to the arctic circle” with you now!!! Seriously, fab post, Jenny, apologies for the long rambling comment though xxx
Lisa | http://www.lisasnotebook.com
Wow really/ Well I’m glad this could be informative to you! I think 3 years is pushing it a bit. Every year or 2 would be better. And HAHAHA thank you xxx
Such a great and important post! I have to wait another couple of years before I’m allowed to have a smear test but it’s great to know what it’s for and posts like this make me feel more comfortable about going when the time comes😊
I’m so glad to hear that! x
I love that you’re talking about important topics like this! Great post lovely!
Chloe 💕 http://www.anomalouschloe.com
Thank you x
Such an important post and one that’s so often misunderstood! I think a lot of people think they’re immune if they had the vaccine which is so so wrong
It’s a dangerous thing to think, especially if they think they don’t need to have smear tests! x
Way to highlight the important of theses screenings! I know tons of women who have a fear of going to the OBGYM to get anything done including screenings. These are extremely important for everyone. Preventative measures are something I think everyone should focus on. Especially when such screenings and test take virtually no time and effort and will protect you in the long run!
Making it real – I love it! thanks for sharing!
Thank you x
This is such an important post, Jenny! My mums a nurse who does smear tests and seeing her so passionate about helping women learn more about their health has made me the same. Great info & thanks for speaking out and sharing your own story!
Awh that’s great to hear! x
Such an important cause to highlight and bring attention to – I think a lot of people will learn a lot, I certainly did + I think a lot of people are nervous about it all but this dispels a lot of that fear! Thanks for sharing Jenny x
Thanks so much, glad this could be informative to you x
Such an important topic and I feel like not many people are actually aware of this. I had an eye opening conversation with one of my mum’s friends earlier this year. She thought that her daughter (10 years younger than me) wouldn’t need to have smear tests because they’d had the HPV vaccine at school. I had to break it to her that people my age got the vaccine too and it doesn’t actually prevent it and she had no idea. It’s crazy how ill informed we are about very common things that can impact our health. Thanks for sharing! x
Wow really?! It’s scary how ill informed some people are. Especially if these things are stopping people getting their smears because they think they’re immune to it! x
I have had it done once when I first started birth control. The last time I got my subscription renewed at a new doctor, I was old I have a choice of whether I get it. They recommend to keep getting it if you have multiple partners. I have only ever had sex with my current partner. I don’t know if I will get it done next time
It’s recommended to have your screening every 3 years, as long as you’re sexually active. Regardless of how many partners. As long as you’re sexually you’re, you’re always at risk.
Thank you. I will be getting one the next time I go. It has been 3 years since I got it. The only that I don’t like is the process of getting it done
Thank you for writing about this! Most women know that they should have Pap smears done but sometimes fear them and go ages without getting checked out. Yes they can hurt, but they’re so necessary.
And also go without REALLY knowing what it is they’re looknig for x
I always have regular smear tests, and have done since I was first invited to by the NHS. My mum has a history of cancer and related illness, so I needed to be sure I had no genetic predisposition. I have never considered the issue of HPV, however, mainly because it wasn’t talked about when I was a teenager. Thank you for raising the issue and talking about it.
I’m glad this could be informative to you. But the main thing is is always going for your smears x
I have the vaccine but I haven’t been for the test yet – I need to x
You definitely do if you’re old enough x
Such an important topic to talk about! I’m 25 in a few months so will be due my first smear, and I’m absolutely terrified but I know it’s so vital to get done xx
Tiffany x http://www.foodandotherloves.co.uk
Ohh it so is! Best of luck when the time comes x
such an important thing to talk and be open about, so this is a great post! I can’t wait til I’m old enough to have a smear – just for peace of mind x
It really does give you a peace of mind x
Thank you for shining some light on this topic, I found it really informative. I wanted to book a smear test months ago, but despite so many reassuring posts from fellow bloggers, I’ve been too scared to go. I definitely need to work up the courage in the coming months because early detection is key!
Dominika | http://www.intothebloom.com
It absolutely is – especially with cervical cancer! As it often takes YEARS to develop. You’ll be glad you went when you do! x
They now offer HPV shots to students but back in my day, it wasn’t available. Luckily, my mom paid for my shots ($600 for 3 shots) because she’s that mom. As for Pap smears and screenings, I’m 3+ years overdue (I know I know) but the thing is, I’m deathly scared of them. It makes me so squeamish. I even get letters in the mail informing me to get it done but I’m afraid to go. I don’t have a family doctor to track me down either which may explain why I’ve been able to put it off this long.
Ah I hope you manage to go soon. They’re not pleasant but the potential alternative is much worse.
I got the HPV vaccine but I only learned reading this that I’m not actually immune to HPV – thank you so much for sharing. I’m always careful but I’m such a hypochondriac that I’ll be running into my first smear test!
Ash | thisdreamsalive.com
Haha you sound like me! But that’s good though!