With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, many of us are making plans with that special someone: plans that may include a big night out or a special night staying in. When we start talking about Valentine’s Day we also need to talk about sex and protecting ourselves. Sexually transmitted diseases are more common than you would think, that’s why protecting ourselves is so important. We can reduce our risk of most STDs through having a conversation with sexual partners and using condoms, but not all STDs are the same. One STD in particular is different when it comes to protecting yourself: human papillomavirus. HPV is an urgent public health issue that most of us don’t really know much about.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, there are an estimated 79 million people who are infected with HPV. Each year there are approximately 14 million new infections. A majority of the new infections occur in people from the ages of 15 to 24. HPV is most commonly contracted through intercourse, but it can also be transmitted through other sexual activities. You can reduce transmission of HPV by the use of condoms, although condoms cannot eliminate the complete risk of transmission. The HPV vaccine is still the safest way to protect oneself. The good news is that HPV can be easily prevented by a simple vaccination.

HPV and HPV-related diseases are incredibly common. About 80 percent of people will come in contact with HPV at some point in their lives. Most HPV infections are asymptomatic, meaning that someone who is infected might not show any symptoms or know they are infected. All males and females ages 11-26 are recommended by the CDC to get the vaccine, whether they are sexually active or not. The HPV vaccine protects against certain types of HPV that cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, penis, anus, vulva, mouth and throat. Although HPV is commonly associated with women, it is also common in men. Men are expected to surpass women with the burden of HPV-related cancers, due to the rise of the mouth and throat cancers in men.

Sex is usually a hot topic that many people often feel uncomfortable or awkward talking about. This is especially common in our young adult years. Some people engage in casual sex, some have serious relationships, or some people are trying to find themselves through sex. Although sex is a powerful activity, sex can also lead to the transmission of HPV if one is not careful with his or her actions. The transmission is in all forms of sex, you name it, you could potentially get it.

What a better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to give yourself the gift of protection. On a day that is filled with love and emotions, we should treat ourselves to the knowledge and awareness of our own health. Even though sex is part of our human nature, unfortunately safe sex is not. Many dismiss the importance of safely engaging in sexual intercourse. As young adults we have the power to control our own bodies, and the power to make our own decisions. With that being said, taking charge of your health is vital for living a happy and healthy life.

Whether you have a Valentine or not, protect yourself and get the HPV vaccine. Having a conversation with your significant other or with just yourself is a step in the right direction. For more information, you can ask your healthcare provider about the vaccine, including the Student Health Center on campus. You can also come to the HPV Vaccination Clinic being held on March 8 at the Joe Crowley Student Union, inside the Great Room from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. All ages are welcome at the clinic and no insurance is needed to get vaccinated! Don’t let yourself be part of the HPV statistic! Visit immunizenevada.org/hpvfreenv for information on vaccines and HPV. 

Kristen Sant studies public health. She can be reached at alexandraschultz@unr.edu and on Twitter                          @TheSagebrush.