How A Cervical Biopsy Rocked My Understanding of HPV

“The HPV test was positive again. We’ll need to do another cervical biopsy.” I immediately burst into tears as soon as I hung up with the phone OB-GYN. I’d had my yearly Pap Smear three days earlier and was ready to say f*ck-all to HPV. I was DONE with that.

The year prior I’d undergone my very first colposcopy after a positive HPV test. I felt cursed. Finding out someone is going to cut pieces out of your cervix is sh*tty under normal circumstances, but for someone with an anxiety disorder, it was fuel on an already heavily unstable fire.

I’d broken up with my boyfriend of over three years in September, only to wind up with HPV in October. I had had the Gardasil vaccine. I’d had sex with two people. TWO PEOPLE. And here I was with a positive HPV test. I wish I could say the first cervical biopsy was no big deal. I cannot.

My sister came to the appointment. My doctor had advised I take “two Ibuprofen” before coming. I took two Valium and four Advil. My doctor used no numbing cream, no local anesthesia, no anything for the pain. The cervix, she explained, has very few nerve endings and so pain management isn’t necessary for this in-office procedure.

She used a hole puncher-like device to “punch” cervical tissue in five different places. The pain was so immeasurable I thought I’d throw up. My sister was there holding my hand. She wasn’t prepared for the gore she was going to witness. She literally fainted on the f*cking floor. I cannot emphasize enough how scary this experience was.

Also, she FAINTED and it wasn’t even her procedure. Way to make it about you, Scarlett, you asshole.

After this first colposcopy, the cells had come back “highly abnormal.” Meaning, I’d need a cervical ablation. My doctor would use a laser to remove the abnormal cervical cells so they didn’t become cancerous. F*ck me, right?

The surgery was a breeze. I was under anesthesia, my whole family came to support me, and they gave me the good drugs. I didn’t love paying $3,000 out of pocket (my insurance would only cover 75 percent of the surgery), but overall I can say with complete certainty that I would have rather have a weekly cervical ablation than ever have another cervical biopsy.

 

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Had my yearly pap today. Even though the CDC specifies that women 21-25 get Pap smears every three years (and every five after that), it’s my recommendation as a sexual health professional to ask your OBGYN for a Pap every single year. And additionally, to request an HPV test every single time. Get tested. Stay safe. Stay informed. Do not get intimated by doctors when they tell you you “don’t need one.” HPV is dangerous and extremely prevalent.

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Yet, here I was, about to be subjected to yet ANOTHER cervical biopsy. I’d only had one new partner since the surgery, a combination of being scared sh*tless of sex and, like, falling in love with my now-fiancé. What the actual hell was my life?!

I was a nervous wreck for the week leading up to colposcopy #2. My fiancé, god bless him, is very nurturing and loving, so having him with me was calming. Sorry, sis, but after Faint Gate, she was NOT going to be my emotional support system through this hell. I love her, but no.

I decided to document the entire experience on Instagram. As a sexologist and journalist, I felt it was my duty to actually talk about what happens during this experience. It feels like NO ONE does. I was so woefully unprepared for my first colposcopy that I didn’t have the slightest idea of what to expect.

 

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Me tomorrow ??‍♀️ “Take two ibuprofen before you come” -advice from my doctor

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I went into the office, having not slept the night before due to intense anxiety, high as a kite on Valium and Xanax. Look, a girl has to do what she has to do. My doctor simply said, “I don’t do that,” when I asked her for lidocaine or some other form of numbing cream, a tip I’d gotten from a friend whose mother is an OB-GYN.

Cool, cool, cool. I guess we were going to do this the good old fashioned way again like it was the Victorian Area. Dope.

 

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A Cervical Biopsy, in III Acts I will always share with you. I will always be vulnerable for you. I will always answer your questions about sexual health. I love you. I see you. Girl love forever. ???

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This second time, I requested that a nurse I liked be in the room. She seemed nice and didn’t force me to get on the scale, a thing I am very against during random procedural visits. I was given a cup and told to give a urine sample. Doctors need to do a routine pregnancy test before a cervical biopsy. If only they gave you a routine Vicodin, amiright?!

My fiancé held my hand, letting me squeeze it as hard as I needed. My doctor applied a solution to my cervix with a Q-tip. This is used to highlight any abnormal cells that need to be biopsied. It burned a lot.

She needed two samples, one from the cervical canal and another where cells had glowed-up as “abnormal.” The cervical canal is necessary because you can’t physically see it with the microscope.

She instructed me to “cough” each time she punched out a section of tissue. The coughing supposedly helps push the cervix out, making it easier to retain a sample. It absolutely SUCKS and causes the pressure of the biopsy tool to reverberate through your abdomen. At least, that’s how it felt to me.

After about nineteen hours (ten minutes), it was over. My fiancé took me home, putting me on the couch, wrapped in blankets. He fed me chicken fingers, painkillers, and Xanax. We watched Scream Queens.

A week later I went in for my follow-up appointment. My doctor let me know the cells had only had mild changes and no cervical ablation would be necessary. “We’ll just do another Pap next year and keep an eye on it.”

Once again I burst into tears. The relife was immense and overwhelming. I don’t know what will happen next year, but I’m praying to every higher power that the HPV will get the f*ck out of my system and die.

Oh, and if this ever happens to you, please advocate for yourself. Tell your doctor you’d like some kind of numbing cream on your cervix. Ask for any kind of pain management they can offer. And for f*ck’s sake, take a Valium.

Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, sexologist, educator and writer living in Chicago. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.

If You Have Sex, Will You Actually Get Chlamydia & Die? The 7 Most Common STDs & Their Treatments

If anything can immediately make you regret every time you’ve deigned to let someone take off your Lululemons, it’s the phrase sexually transmitted disease. Honestly, just typing it is enough to make me want to pop a Xanax and wear a chastity belt until STD rates go down, which should be soon since apparently our generation isn’t having any sex. Go figure.

But just because some millennials are going through a dry spell doesn’t mean we all are, and that means STDs are an actual concern on top of all the other shit that comes with being half an adult. (Read: paying taxes scanning your W2 and emailing it to your accountant and showing up for work often enough to not get fired.) Terrifyingly, the CDC reported last fall that chlamydia, gonorrhea (aka the clap), and syphilis rates have all skyrocketed among 15- to 24-year-olds, and it’s probably thanks to lack of education. I would say we should have paid better attention to health in high school, but everybody knows American sex ed is about as useful as a broken condom. Or one you put on wrong because you had shitty sex ed.

So what are your actual chances of getting chlamydia and dying? Here are the most common STDs in the U.S. to give you anxiety when you go to sleep tonight.

1. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

Because the world is a terrible place, the same kind of virus that gives you gross warts is also the most common STD. According to the CDC, HPV is so common nearly everybody gets it at some point in their lives, and there are approximately a bajillion different kinds. Most strains are symptomless, but sometimes they can start causing issues like genital warts and fucking cancer after a few years. *Cries* The problem is that by then, it’s been so long and the disease is so common it’s impossible to know which fuckboy is responsible so you can go strangle him in his sleep, but even if you caught that shit right away there isn’t even a way to test for HPV in men. THANKS, PATRIARCHY.

The good news is HPV usually goes away on its own, so at least you’re not stuck with it forever. Unless you get the kind that gives you cancer. You might even live in blissful ignorance, because doctors don’t usually start testing for HPV until you’re 30 anyway. So basically you got those three Gardasil shots when you were 15 and had a sore arm for a week for nothing, because you’ll still probably get HPV but hopefully not the kind that gives you warts or cancer. This is your life; just accept it now.

2. Chlamydia

Chlamydia had its first 15 minutes of fame thanks to Mean Girls, and now it’s back in the spotlight as the second most common STD in the U.S. AND the most commonly reported one. (HPV doesn’t count because it’s usually symptomless so it goes undetected a lot of the time—apologies for your impending anxiety attack.) It’s especially common in young women between 20 and 24 years old, which is why so many of your sorority sisters had it at one point. 

Chlamydia is honestly not a big fucking deal, but it CAN give you pelvic inflammatory disease if you let it stick around too long, which is why you should listen to those billboards you see everywhere and get tested regularly. If you DO feel symptoms—which most people don’t—it’s mostly burning when you urinate and a weird discharge, so like, nothing too drastic. I’ve had yeast infections that were probably worse. Also, it’s treatable with antibiotics, #bless. 

Chlamydia

3. Trichomoniasis

WTF is some disease nobody’s ever heard of doing so high on the list? Apparently, there were more than a million cases of trichomoniasis in 2013, and I would honestly like to know who these people are that are spreading and contracting this mystery disease. Anyway, like all these other diseases, this one’s mostly symptomless, but it’s caused by a protozoan parasite which sounds like the beginning of a horror movie. If you start showing symptoms, it’s mostly itching, discharge, and maybe a funny smell. So basically go to the doctor next time stuff is weird downstairs because there might be a parasite swimming around. Casual. But before you call Amy Adams (that was the plot of Arrival, right?), according to WebMD aka the official source of 99% of my anxiety attacks, 9 out of 10 cases of trichowhatever are cured by a single round of antibiotics. Fab.

4. Gonorrhea

There’s no justice in the world: Of the 800,000 new cases of gonorrhea each year, women are more likely to report it than men. Is that just because we’re like, actually responsible and proactive about our sexual health? That’s my personal working theory. Anyway. The good/bad news is that the symptoms are—shocker—discharge and burning when you pee for women, and we usually don’t have any issues at all. So like, if you think you have a UTI/yeast infection combo, don’t buy a bunch of Monistat and cranberry pills at CVS and go to the doctor to be sure. Dudes, on the other hand, are way more likely to have symptoms like painful urination and swollen balls. I’m not taking joy in their pain, but I’m also not not taking joy in their pain…

Sip Tea

Gonorrhea is supposedly treatable with antibiotics, but apparently it’s becoming harder to treat because it’s becoming resistant to the usual medicine. So I think it’s fair to say that gonorrhea will be what kills us all. Not ISIS. Not nuclear war. The fucking clap. Start stocking your bunkers now.

5. Herpes

Thank the fucking Lord herpes is number five on the list, because it’s literally untreatable. But you didn’t need me to tell you that since it’s probably already the source of most of your nightmares. ICYMI, genital herpes is basically cold sores for your vagine—except usually more painful and unpleasant. You know the drill by now, it’s usually symptomless, but if you have symptoms, it’s bad news bears. First, you get blisters, then they burst and leave super sores. Then you may have to deal with outbreaks for the rest of your life and worrying if anyone will ever have sex with you again and how soon you should tell the guy you’re seeing that you have herpes and is the first date too soon and do you have to sign up for one of those herpes dating sites and does anyone have a paper bag I can hyperventilate into? And it’s all because some dick (pun fucking intended—and that one too, wow I’m so meta) gave you herpes. I am not a lawyer but I think this is one of those cases where “justifiable homicide” would apply.

6. Syphilis

Only about 50,000 people get syphilis every year because this isn’t the 1700s anymore, but it’s scary enough that it still bears mentioning. There are four stages: first it shows up as a painless sore, then it’s a rash, then it goes away. Most people with syphilis are happily stuck in the third stage, but sometimes it keeps developing into a fourth stage where you go blind and die horribly, or, the bacteria goes to your brain and eats holes in it like Swiss cheese and you end up going poastal and killing four children and ending up on death row for murder. I saw that in an episode of SVU one time, so it’s 100% factual.

SVU

7. HIV

I’m not a soulless monster, so even I will refrain from making fun of HIV. That shit kills people. I’ll just leave you with a reminder that there are still about 40,000 new diagnoses in the U.S. every year, so when some health organization offers to test you for free, take them up on it. Also like, stay away from intravenous drugs. For many reasons.

I’m not your mom, but don’t be an idiot or you might get syphilis and die.