Oh, good old HPV. What is it anyway? I wondered too, which is why I called Planned Parenthood, an LGBT hotline and an STI hotline. Apparently they don’t know either.
They gave me the information, but did not apply it in a real-life way.
First up, I called Planned Parenthood.
“Hi! I was hoping you can tell me about HPV.”
I was put on hold and transferred a bajillion times. When I finally reached someone, she was super nice but had to tell me to hang on to relay my question to somebody else. Didn’t they do this for a living?
She returned with some basic info. Then I asked how partners could pass it.
“You wouldn’t know who gave it to you, or if you gave it to a partner. Men can’t be tested for it so…”
“What if I’m sleeping with women?” I interjected.
“Oh! Um… that I don’t know… please hold.”
She returns to the call…
“Yes, it can be passed from skin-to-skin contact.”
“Is the virus located in the vaginal secretions or the cervix? Like what’s the risk for strap on sex vs oral?”
I wasn’t trying to be annoying, I just really wanted to know.
“There’s a risk for all skin-to-skin contact,” she told me. I felt anxious to keep pressing for information. I said thanks and hung up. Moving on!
Then, I called an STI hotline, which was again, gave me heteronormative AF information. All the information was extremely vague as well. Like, seriously, WTF is skin-to-skin?
So I tried a Planned Parenthood chat:
Again, really vague. It seemed copied and pasted from the confusing internet posts I was referencing. And heteronormative even though I specifically asked about lesbians. Also what kind of in-person sex doesn’t involve skin to skin contact? Though an incredible resource, I worried this chat was not giving realistic advice.
Next up, I called LGBT Crisis Hotline (cause at this point I felt like I was having a crisis):
“Hi! I was wondering if you could give me some information about lesbians and HPV!” I bordered on hysterics.
“No matter what kind of sex, you should use protection.”
“Like dental dams?” I asked, my tone revealing how much I hate dental dams.
“Yeah. I’m sorry,” they joked.
“Well, where is the HPV virus? Is it in vaginal secretions? Or is it in the cervix? Where is the risk, exactly?”
“It is passed by skin-to-skin contact,” another non-helpful response.
I felt like all three of the phone operators were reading off a fact card but not actually listening to or answering my questions. It was exhausting, discouraging and frustrating. I wondered what advice they’d give about HPV partner disclosure.
I really wanted to be more impressed by these resources but all of them let me down. Professionals not being educated about queer sex is nothing new, but these hotlines devoted specifically to STIs not having knowledge that I was seeking is kind of terrifying.
Despair not, my fellow queers! We are going to figure this out together. The HPV conversation is not over. Come back on Monday for more HPV info, including a ~personal essay~ in my new column Lesbian Sex and The City!
Where do you go to get accurate queer-friendly sex ed? Luckily we have our very own sex educator Corinne Werder.