'Getting Genital Warts Is Just About As Rubbish As You’d Imagine'
The Debrief: It’s humiliating, I can’t bring myself to get a bikini wax… oh, and at one point they started popping up around my anus too…
Hey, guess what’s the best thing about being a sexually active human? That’s right, 75% of us are infected HPV. It’s an STI with around 200 different strains, most of which are fairly symptom-free, some of which can turn into cancer (go get a smear test, dickhead) and some mean you get genital warts. Out of all the STIs – from chlamydia right through to gonorrhea – genital warts has to be the most immediately unsexy. And, for some reason, the most stigmatised.
I say this because, with something like syphilis or chlamydia, it evokes genuine concern. A friend of mine got chlamydia at uni and I felt so sorry for her. If you get genital warts then, mate, that’s just fucking gross, why the hell are you telling me? I’m trying to eat a sandwich here.
What do genital warts look like?
It happened to me three years ago when I’d broken up with my boyfriend for cheating on me. We then, inadvisably, got back together and about three months later I decided to look at my own vag using a pocket mirror, having heard of people doing this and never actually thinking to do it. Plus, I’d just had my first Hollywood, so it felt like an apt time to check that shit out.
The only thing I saw was four warts. On my labia. I cried for roughly an hour, interspersed with Googling ‘genital warts’, which only led to more crying. Side note: don’t ever Google ‘genital warts’ because the image search that comes up will haunt your dreams forever.
Further side note: this reads like some sort of sob story, but I could really have done with knowing I wasn’t alone when I got diagnosed with those little skin-coloured lumps under my knickers. We’re not alone, guys. There are hundreds of us. So I’ll give it to you straight.
Can Genital Warts be Treated?
When I told my boyfriend, he completely freaked out and, due to his public school upbringing, was totally incapable of talking about it, which made me feel like a warty mutant – although nothing was worse than the actual treatment. Turns out you can’t just take a pill and make it go away, oh no, you have to lie on your back with your feet in stirrups while a nurse burns them every week until they go away on their own.
The thinking behind this is that the burning (which is actually technically freezing, but it feels like burning) awakens your body’s defences thereby prodding it to start getting rid of the warts. And it sort of hurts. It feels like someone pinching your skin between their nails.
Actually, maybe it doesn’t hurt as much on your body as it hurts your soul. It’s humiliating. You can’t get a bikini wax during the treatment time (which took me three months) and your sex drive plummets through the ground.
‘You should feel a slight stinging sensation,’ says the nurse, as she gropes around your genitals to find evidence of more warts popping up. ‘Oh,’ said one of them in the fourth week, ‘You’ve got a few around your anus as well. Don’t worry, weirdly that area hurts a lot less.’
Don’t worry? How can I not worry when I have no idea when these bastards are going to be vanquished? Week after week went by, and not only were they not leaving, new ones were popping up around my arse. It reminded me of the time I got loads of veruccas from the swimming baths, except way more embarrassing. In the end, it took three months and a lot of crying, before they finally disappeared. But it left me with a real complex about my own vagina, and a real issue when it came to stuff like, say, people going down on me.
Do genital warts go away?
In a word - yes. I still get a lump in my throat if anyone tries to get down there in case the nurse didn’t quite get all of them. I still have HPV, so they can recur if I’m tired or stressed and yes, they certainly fucking have. When I was having trouble at work, I got one and had to go back for a month’s worth of burn-freezing. It’s like a cold sore, but less socially acceptable and means I can now never go get a professional wax (I have to do it myself, which hurts like a bitch) or look at my own vagina in a compact mirror just in case I see something that could be a genital effing wart.
And what a loss that has been. OK, so it hasn’t, because who spends every evening staring at their own vagina? But it’s certainly fostered a sense of alarm and mistrust that has taken a long time to get back. It feels like it’s me versus my vagina, and whenever I’m at my lowest ebb, whenever I need a bit of TLC, it turns against me and sprouts warts.
It’s surprising I’m not single, to be honest.
Your other genital wart-based questions, answered...
Are genital warts contagious?
Yes - according to the NHS they are the second-most common type of sexually transmitted infection after Chlamydia. They can be spread during vaginal and anal sex and by sharing sex toys, but the HPV virus can just be spread by skin-to-skin contact, making it scarily easy to catch.
What do Genital warts feel like? Do genital warts itch?
According to Web MD they are usually painless and appear in clusters, although they may sometimes cause mild pain or slight itching.
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