By now, most of you all have at least heard of HPV (thanks to all those nifty vaccination commercials). But do you really know what it is? I didn’t, until I contracted it. When I first found out, my original doctor was very… short with me. He basically told me, “Oh, you have HPV. Here’s a pamphlet.” And he left the room. Meanwhile, I’m pretty much bawling my eyes out, thinking I was going to die at 19. Thank goodness I was wrong! Once I switched doctors, I found out the truth, and I think you should too.

HPV, or the human papillomavirus, is the most common STI. Almost 20 million Americans currently have HPV, and 6 million more are infected every year. Even though that sounds absolutely terrifying, it’s also a little comforting. Know why? Because if you find yourself in that situation, you know that you’re not alone in it. Lots of women, and men, have experienced the same thing you’re going through. Most people don’t even know they have it; in many cases, there aren’t any outward symptoms. If you do see something weird with your lady parts (mainly warts), go to your doctor ASAP.

HPV is passed through sexy-time acts, so using protection is obviously crucial to your health. Since many people don’t have any outward symptoms, you could have contracted it from one partner and didn’t find out about it until years later when it becomes a problem. This is why going to your OBGYN for your annual pap is kinda a big deal. Your doctor can tell you if you have it, how far it’s progressed, and if you are at risk for cervical cancer.

While you can’t necessarily prevent HPV (besides abstinence), there are ways you can lower your risk of contracting. I’m sure you all have seen the commercials for the vaccinations — they’re hard to miss. Right now, there are two vaccines on the market for the cancerous strains of HPV: Gardasil and Cervarix. Gardasil protects both men and women from HPV. Condoms and monogamy can also lower the risk of HPV.

No matter what, don’t freak out. In 90% of cases, your body will clear it up within two years. And if not, your doctor has plenty of options to take care of it. The worst thing you could do is panic. As long as you go to your OBGYN regularly and don’t participate in risky sex, you’ll totally be fine. Trust me on this.

For more information, check out http://www.cdc.gov/std/HPV/STDFact-HPV.htm.