Last I heard, six partners or more is considered medically promiscuous. That’s six total partners – consecutive and/or concurrent.
I grew up with a girl who became sexually involved with a man from the neighborhood. She was sixteen, he was thirty-two and married – he said his wife was a bitch. She was too young and naive to know that the wife is always a bitch, and never that he is simply a cheating bastard. So she gave him her virginity and he gave her HPV (human papillomavirus) – the gift that keeps on giving. He gifted her with one of the strains that causes recurrent genital warts.
She was not promiscuous, medically speaking, and yet she still contracted a disease. Because it only takes one rogue partner.
I remember how much pain she was in when the doctor burned them off, how she couldn’t sit down.
After all that, the warts came back.
She is married now and avoids intercourse with her husband when she has an outbreak, which is good, I suppose, but HPV is contagious even when there are no lesions present.
She is lucky, though, because the strains that manifest as warts are usually not the strains that cause cervical cancer. Those strains have no visible signs.
I learned about the connection between HPV and cervical dysplasia/cervical cancer years ago at a conference on the epidemic of STDs among adolescents. I also learned from one of the speakers – a doctor specializing in adolescent health with a practice in the Boston area – that the AMA (American Medical Association) made a decision to NOT share that connection with patients.
My head reeled, sitting there in the audience, as my stomach and my naive trust absorbed the blow: Doctors withhold information at the direction of the AMA?
I raised my hand, “How can they not tell?”
“There’s nothing doctors can do about it, there’s no cure for HPV, so why get patients upset?”
“Well there is something patients can do about it,” I countered, “they can choose to be less promiscuous, they can make informed decisions about their sexual behavior.”
“There are people who don’t want them to be less promiscuous,” he shrugged. “Sex is a huge money-making industry.”
Don’t get me wrong, the speaker is a good guy who takes time away from his practice to travel around the country speaking to kids about the risks casual sex poses to their health. He was just telling it like it is.
As I drove home from the conference I thought about friends who had cervical dysplasia and who had no idea they were at risk of developing cervical cancer; who had no idea of its connection to HPV. I thought of the “medically promiscuous” teens and young adults who came to the center for free pregnancy tests. I thought of the young client I had seen recently, the one who had already had seven different partners and she was only seventeen.
I started to sob those I-need-windshield-wipers-for-my-eyeballs kind of sobs. “Lord, you have to warn them,” I begged.
I shared what I learned at the conference with the volunteers back at the pregnancy center. One of them, a nurse, confided that she was diagnosed with cervical dysplasia – a pre-cancerous condition – and she had to really press and insist before her doctor would tell her the cause of her condition – HPV.
She was a virgin when she married her husband and her husband had had only one previous sex partner – his first wife. So how did she contract HPV? His first wife was unfaithful, hence their divorce.
A few years later I traveled to Houston for a conference on adolescent sexual health. The main speaker told the story of a man whose wife – her patient – died of cervical cancer at Scott and White. He remarried. His second wife also became a patient at Scott and White and she also died of cervical cancer. The man became angry, blamed the hospital. The hospital pointed out that they were not the common denominator, he was.
Testing showed that HPV had made a comfy home for itself just under the surface of his skin. No warts, no visible signs on his body. He had lost two wives to a virus he did not know he carried.
One of the aims of that conference in Houston – though it was not advertised as such – was to introduce a new vaccine that was about to hit the market, a vaccine that would protect against six of the over one hundred strains of HPV. The keynote speaker was on the team that developed the vaccine.
Not too long afterward, I received a postcard in the mail urging me to “Tell Someone.” It was from the maker of the vaccine.
Oh yeah, now you want me to tell someone, now that there is money to be made.
I’m not even going to go into the pros and considerable cons of the vaccine. Not today anyway.
Here’s the bottom line: You can be a sixteen year old virgin, have sex with one rogue guy and get HPV. You can save yourself for marriage and marry someone who had only been with his (cheating) wife, and end up with HPV. So how the heck do the “medically promiscuous” think they are going to escape disease?
The American Lung Association (or maybe it’s the American Cancer Society) has been running frequent ads featuring people who were filmed speaking with voices distorted by tracheostomies and showing torsos maimed by surgeries and painful lung drainage tube removals, who have since died, in an effort to convince smokers to quit smoking. Though I hate to watch the ads, I am glad they are being shown so frequently and I pray the campaign will be highly successful.
If it is, then I pray it will be followed by a similar campaign featuring infertile couples (last I heard, infertility rates were up 300% – much of which is due to scarring from pelvic inflammatory disease caused by chlamydia and other sexually transmitted bacterial infections); featuring women fighting cervical cancer, men suffering from epididymitis; men and women battling virulent oral cancers caused by HPV, etc. Show young and old what can come of the fun, cool, casual sex they see on tv. Perhaps urge them to do what God told them to do in the first place: Keep their (future) marriage beds pure. Without mentioning God, of course, so people will listen. Keep it purely scientific, without giving props to the One behind the science.
Sex ought to come with a warning – a parental warning, a medical warning, a societal warning, like it used to – before infertility rates were sky high and STDs were epidemic.