Getting the HPV vaccine wasn’t a priority when I was a teen. Honestly, I never thought about it that much, partly because I was a virgin and didn’t feel ready to start having sex anytime soon. Gardasil was really new at that time, too, so not many people I knew had gotten vaccinated.
I got a job shortly after graduating from college and found out my new health insurance covered the HPV vaccine. I also happened to be getting serious with a new boyfriend, so I decided to finally get the vaccine.
I was still a virgin, but my boyfriend wasn’t, so I asked if he’d get tested. His test came back with all negative results. We were excited to take the next step in our relationship. We were also monogamous, so I thought I had nothing to worry about. But after a gynecologist checkup, I found out I had high-risk HPV.
I was stunned. I told my doctor my boyfriend had been tested for STIs. She told me there was no way to detect the virus in men, so even if his tests were negative for everything else, there’s no way he could know for sure whether he had HPV.
When I said I had been vaccinated, she asked if we’d had sex before I got all three shots. Unfortunately, we had sex after my second shot but before my third, so the vaccine wasn’t fully effective yet.
At first, I was furious with myself. Despite trying to be so careful, I still ended up with an STI. It didn’t help that my boyfriend and I had split up by the time I found out I had HPV. But looking back, I don’t regret having sex. Instead, I regret not getting vaccinated sooner.
I also wish I had been better informed about HPV—I had no idea at the time that men couldn’t be tested for it. Had I known that, I might have waited a couple more months to have sex after my vaccination shots were complete.
I never had cancerous lesions develop, but a lot of women with the same high-risk HPV strain I had weren’t so lucky. I hope my story helps someone else who may be on the fence about getting the vaccine by showing them just how important it really is.
— Jessica, age 28