Jess Phillips recently explained the “shame and guilt” she experienced during her 20s, after receiving the news that she had HPV – the human papillomavirus. However, the reality is that most sexually active adults will contract HPV in their lifetime.

Following Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, Labour MP Jess Phillips spoke out about the stigma she faced upon being told she had HPV at age 22.

“I felt like it was my fault, that I had done something wrong, because I had HPV,” she said. “It’s sexually transmitted so there was always this sense that it was somehow my doing and that I could have avoided this.”

“It seems that relatively little has changed in regards to HPV – the level of knowledge, how it is viewed, and how it is spoken about.”

What is HPV?

HPV is a family of sexually transmitted viruses, of which there are over 140 different strains. There are 14 high-risk types of HPV which are linked to the development of several cancers. Low-risk HPV types are not cancerous but can cause genital warts.

High-risk types 16 and 18 are strongly linked to cervical cancer. In fact, almost all cases of cervical cancer are linked to chronic HPV infections.

In recent years, cervical screening procedures in the UK, Wales and Scotland have changed. All samples are firstly screened for HPV, as opposed to relying solely on a PAP smear which detects cell changes in the cervix. This testing method is advantageous as it enables earlier, more accurate detection in those who are most at risk of cervical cancer.

Due to an increase in HPV testing, a higher number of women are receiving an HPV diagnosis than previous years. Therefore, it is more important than ever to ensure that HPV is understood.

“I feel saddened that there are still so many women and people with a cervix, finding out they have HPV, feeling terrified about their future and possibly blaming themselves,” Jess expressed. “Please don’t blame yourself. I want to make sure no-one feels as bad about this as I once did.”

Woman with brown hair looking out window.

HPV infections are extremely common. Around 80% of sexually active adults will contract HPV through sexual contact or intercourse during their lifetime.

In most cases, an HPV infection will clear up by itself and will not cause any serious problems. However, it is important to be aware that persistent infections caused by high-risk strains of HPV can become cancerous.

Around 3,200 women in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Many women fear that an HPV infection will lead to cervical cancer.

Worrying statistics indicate that 1 in 4 women do not attend their cervical screening appointment – a quick and simple test that can prevent cervical cancer and save lives. While some women may avoid testing due to believing that the procedure is painful or embarrassing, others may not place significant importance on getting tested, or may be worried about the stigma associated with testing positive.

Having an HPV infection should not be perceived as shameful, nor should any other sexually transmitted infection (STI). By getting tested, you are taking the necessary steps to protect your health.

Speak to Better2Know in confidence

If you are concerned about HPV or any other STI, visit our website for more information or speak to our highly trained sexual health advisors today by phone or live chat. Our dedicated team is here for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help you gain peace of mind surrounding your sexual health.

We can arrange confidential STI testing at a clinic near you or you can order a convenient home test kit.


[1] BBC News:

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