My mother keeps telling me I should not have sex until after I’m 21 as cervical cancer runs in my family. She links it to early sex by my grandmother and two aunts. She does not have it but said she started having sex at 16, my present age, and suffered emotionally and otherwise because of such. Though I understand her concern for me, I’m not her and know what I’m doing, so why should I not have sex as long as I use condoms? Don’t you agree ?
Whether you decide to have sex or not it has to be your decision. But just like your mum, many people who had sex when they are young wish they’d waited until they were older. I’m certainly not going to encourage you to have sex at your age, even though you seem to have the right idea about ensuring you are protected at all times.
In my professional opinion, most men don’t know how to use condoms properly and make many mistakes while they are learning and acquiring the skill, so this decision is yours and yours alone.
Your mother has your best interests at heart and sounds as if she’s easy to talk to, which makes you one of the lucky ones.
She has a good point about cervical cancer, but although several members of a family may have had abnormal cells at the cervix – and many articles make it sound as if a woman with cervical cancer must have had lots of partners from a very young age – this is an extremely unfair judgment to put on anyone’s shoulders.
A virgin could develop abnormal cervical cell changes if she was unlucky enough to encounter an unprotected penis with the human papilloma virus (HPV or wart virus) on it, for her first sexual partner.
Young men (and older men) tend to ‘play the field’ more than women, which puts them at increased risk – but it also puts those women who are less experienced at risk from their activities, too.
There’s an incredibly strong link between the invisible forms of HPV – there are over 100 varieties of HPV, some like the genital area, while other varieties like other parts of the body – and pre-cancerous cervical cell changes, as well as several other types of genital cancer such as vaginal, vulva and anal/rectal cancers. HPV is also implicated in some throat cancers.
Since your cervix doesn’t mature until you are about 23 years of age, under that age, there is an additional risk should you encounter HPV from someone who probably doesn’t even know he is carrying and passing it to his partner(s) – female or male.
A condom will, when used consistently and correctly, protect your cervix from this. But HPV is so common nowadays that there’s about a 50:50 chance of encountering it if you have sex with a non-virgin (male or female).
That is why people say the more sexual partners one has, the greater the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections; and they don’t always mean the obvious ones like Gonorrhoea, Syphilis, Chlamydia or HIV.
There are two types of cervical cancer and the one called ‘squamous cell carcinoma’ is sexually related. There’s also ‘adenocarcinoma’ which thankfully, is less common – but harder to detect and more aggressive. Anyone who has ever been sexually active should have regular smear tests which can, and do, save many women from developing cervical cancer when treatment is undertaken promptly.
There is also a very strong link between nicotine and cervical cancer. HPV and nicotine increase the risks even further, so if you smoke, please stop now, for the sake of your cervix and ability to get pregnant when you want in the years to come, without additional trauma.
This is why I wouldn’t encourage you to have sex yet, without passing any moral judgment on you.
ps Don’t forget that nowadays, there is a vaccine to protect against HPV. There are two types, so speak to your doctor or healthcare professional if you are not yet sexually active, or, if you have only had a few sexual partners – it is proving to be extremely good at protecting against the main strains of HPV that are associated with cervical cancer, and some other cancers – and, if you have the vaccine that protects against four strains, you gain great protection against the main genital wart strains of HPV (human papilloma virus).