It Happened To Me: I Caught Genital Warts

My first thought was that I was going to be plagued by growths for the rest of my life. My lovely, textbook vagina would no doubt soon be riddled with fat, ugly warts, spreading beyond control.

Jan 18, 2013 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

Enough was enough. Out came the mirror and in I went for an inspection. I don’t know about you, but I’m not all that familiar with how my vagina looks. I know roughly how it feels and that’s enough for me. A gynae once told me I have a textbook vagina, which is easily the weirdest compliment I’ve ever had, but I’ll take it anyway.

I’d been getting sore after peeing, for no good reason. While in the shower I’d felt a little lump, so decided to check it out. Straight away I saw it. Just inside the entrance, it was small and pale and I knew what it was; a wart.

image

My genital wart looked EXACTLY like this.

 All the websites say they’re meant to be HUGE and look like a cauliflower, but mine looked more like a tiny iceberg and felt rough, like a verruca.

Shit. Why me? I’ve only slept with three men, one was a virgin at the time, and I’ve always been a good girl, careful, etc, etc. This is really not fair. My first thought was that I was going to be plagued by growths for the rest of my life. My lovely, textbook vagina would no doubt soon be riddled with fat, ugly warts, spreading beyond control.

I’d never be able to have sex with anyone ever again. I’d probably never be able to have kids!

I imagined whispers around the table at family dinners of the future, amongst the couples and nieces and nephews: "Wonder why she never married, maybe she just didn’t find anyone? Maybe she’s too demanding? Is she secretly a lesbian?" And all the while, I’d shamefully know I’m an old spinster because I’m infested with an STD.

First, I called the boyfriend. I don’t actually know how many girls he’s slept with - I’ve never asked because I don’t want to know - but I suspect he’s had his fair share of action.

"Have you ever had an STI?" I blurt out. This is followed by a stunned silence. "OK, do you have genital warts? Because I have one. And it definitely wasn’t there before I met you, and that’s kind of suspicious, right? It’s also appeared at the same time that the NHS Direct website says they normally appear after the initial infection, which is three months. I’ve been sleeping with you for three months, so all the signs point to, um, you…"

He takes it calmly, but swears that as far as he knows, he’s never had anything and I believe him. We’re a cool couple, he’s a laid-back guy, so the conversation wasn’t as awkward as I’d thought, even though I was upset.

We had a long-distance thing going on at the time, so he agreed to get himself checked out at the clinic as soon as he could. I headed down to my clinic and was surprised with how blasé the nurse was about it all when I told her what was up.

"‘Loads of people have them, even I’ve had ‘em!" she reassured me. Seriously?

She goes on to tell me that it’s the most common STD. There are no real health risks and they’re no different to verrucas or having warts on your hands. More people are infected with the HPV virus that causes them than those who aren’t – it’s just that only 1/3 of those infected actually develop the warts.

Even as a fan of Embarrassing Bodies and being the target of endless STI campaigns at uni, it turns out there’s a lot I don’t know about genital warts.

Here are some fun facts I learnt about genital warts:
1. Sorry to break the news, but you can catch HPV even if you use a condom, if your genitals touch during foreplay or he touches himself before fondling you.

2. The HPV virus that causes them can stay inactive in your system for a couple of years before it surfaces, so there’s no way of telling who you picked it up from if you have a few different partners. Not everyone develops the warts either, but these lucky ones can still pass the virus onto a partner. That partner can develop the warts, making it near impossible to trace their origins. It’s one sneaky virus.

3. It doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the world, or your sex life, although it can temporarily mean the end of your sex life while they’re being treated, as you need to leave the area to heal. The majority of people never see them again after a year, unless you have a dodgy immune system.

I thought I had poor immunity, but mine responded well to treatment. In fact, lots of girls never know they have them if they’re hidden away on the inside and they just go away on their own.

4. It does not mean you’re going to get cervical cancer. Genital warts are caused by a different type of HPV than the one associated with cancer. The HPV jab does, however, protect against the strain that causes genital warts, which is a bonus.

Strangely, the more I read, the better I felt. The treatment was not such relieving news. Getting rid of the warts involves blasting them with nitrogen using a small gas canister, fitted with a mini hose. They freeze, shrink and hopefully drop off. It might take several visits but they will go eventually. On my fourth time, they also gave me some cream that helps block the virus and prevent further outbreak.

My first wart was in a really awkward place, next to my urethra, so it stung like a bitch every time it was frozen, and for at least an hour afterwards. It took six attempts, each two weeks apart for it to go.

During my ‘outbreak’ I got three, tiny warts over six months, but since the last one shrivelled up and disappeared, I’ve not seen anything suspect for a year. It’s generally considered that you’re clear if you go for this long without a recurrence.

I’m still with my boyfriend, who still hasn’t developed any warts, although he’s undoubtedly carrying the virus. But he’ll eventually develop immunity and get it out of his system too, if he hasn’t already.

After telling some of my close friends, surprise, surprise, two of them confided in me that they’ve also had warts too. And I’ve sat in my office of 30 women thinking that at least a few of my colleagues have them, or have had them too. So I don’t feel too bad about it at all.

Have you ever had the HPV virus? Let us know below or on Twitter @xojaneuk