Your Sexual Health Update
What's Going On Down There?
Three years ago, a sexually transmitted infection was the last thing Jodi McKinney, a 39-year-old mother of five young kids in suburban New Jersey, was worried about. (Diaper rash, yes. Herpes, not so much.) So when her ob-gyn suggested she pair her annual Pap smear with a new HPV screening to test for the human papillomavirus strains most responsible for cervical cancer, it was the first time she'd heard of the test -- or the virus. Still, she was game. "It was just another safeguard to verify that everything was okay," she says.
The Pap result was negative. But the HPV test was positive. McKinney was stunned. After a biopsy revealed atypical cells, she had a procedure called LEEP, which uses a low-voltage electrical wire to remove abnormal tissue. "If not for the HPV test, I wouldn't have gone back to the doctor for another year -- and by that point I might have had full-blown cervical cancer," she says now. "The more I talk to friends, the more I hear, 'I wasn't offered that.' Women are not educated about this."
If you count yourself in that camp -- or if skipping your annual is an annual ritual -- it's time to get serious about your sexual health. Why? In case you haven't heard, sexually transmitted diseases and infections are on the rise; studies estimate up to 80 percent of us will have HPV at some point. Meanwhile, new vaccines, screenings and, in some cases, hormone therapy make it easier than ever to treat conditions early. With so many sexual health issues in the news, "we're fielding thousands of questions every month -- more than ever before," says Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, executive director of the National Women's Health Resource Center. Consider this your primer, through your childbearing years and beyond.
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