This is one of those posts in which I have to remind you that I am not a doctor.
When I was a teenager, I read in "Seventeen" magazine that sexually active teenagers and women over 18 were supposed to have regular pap (or cervical) smears, but I never read why that was exactly. The reason why is that vaginal sex can give you a virus called HPV which can go on to give you cervical cancer. If you have a regular pap (or cervical smear) regularly, doctors can see if you have cervical cancer sooner rather than later.
This is probably the tenth time I've written this, but the scientist Natalie Angiers wrote in "Woman: An Intimate Geography" that the very scary thing about HPV and cervical cancer is that condoms don't seem to prevent them. The more men you sleep with, whether or not you use condoms, the more likely you are to get them.
Meanwhile, I know that a teenage girl is especially vulnerable to contracting HPV and other diseases because the walls of her cervix are not very thick yet.
Here is something my friend Hilary recently wrote about sex and cervical cancer. http://anglocath.blogspot.com/2011/12/dear-16-year-old-me.html
(Blogger doesn't seem to be working properly right now, so I can't embed it.)
Please read it and then come back for my following remarks. (By the way, I can't get youtube, either, so I have no idea what video Hilary has up.)
The first thing I have to say is that it is disgraceful that nobody warned my mother's or my or your generation that "free love" was potentially lethal and that even the almighty condom can't stop all venereal diseases. The only excuse for the enablers of the sexual dissolution that I can think of is that they simply didn't know: never before had so many women slept with so many men. I suspect they know now, which is why various public health bodies are so keen to inoculate as many 15 year old girls as possible against HPV.
The second thing I have to say is that a hysterectomy should not signal the end of matrimonial hopes. Not all men long to have children. Some never really think about them, and some have had children in first marriages or earlier relationships, and some discover at the age of 50 that although they'd like to get married, they would be relieved to be married to a woman who, barring a miracle, wasn't going to have children herself, e.g. a woman their own age. That's not selfish; that's just the reality of many men over 50.
Meanwhile, as women over childbearing age marry or remarry, I don't see why a woman with a hysterectomy might not marry or remarry, too.
The third thing I have to say, and this is not in criticism of Hilary, who has written a generous post, from a place of illness, disillusionment, fear and pain, and it is that it is in general a bad idea for an unmarried Catholic woman to write on the internet about her past sexual sins, no matter how far in the past they may be.
Long-time readers will remember how I discourage female readers from revealing whether or not they are virgins to anyone other than their doctor or their date-has-been-set-hall-has-been booked fiances. Your virginity or lack thereof is nobody's business but your own, and for various reasons (freaking out the sensitive, gossipy friends, creepy virgin hunters, "how come you would for him but not for me?", etc.) you should keep it to yourself.
But I will also say, as I have said many times before, that you should also keep a lid on the sexual sins of your past life because they freak out religious men, particularly younger or less sexually experienced religious men. Men's imaginations are on a hair-trigger where sex is concerned anyway, and so if they discover the girl they really like has been with some other guy, their imaginations go wild. They torture themselves wondering who and what and where and when, and they feel competitive and jealous and potentially inadequate and generally awful. And they occasionally (often?) move the Publicly Known to Have Slept Around Girl off the Potential Wife list, no matter how humble and contrite she might now be.
And so another lie of the sexual revolution is revealed. Not only can sleeping around end up in cancer, a lot of good young men still feel uncomfortable knowing that women they might bring home to their mothers have slept around. Yes, never-married girls do have to tell their fiances whether they are virgins or not and if they have an incurable sexual disease, but I cannot think of any man not your doctor or your very trusted confessor who needs to hear about your past sexual actions.
And if you and/or your fiance has been sexually active, make sure you both/he gets checked out for HPV* and any other sexually transmitted disease before you get married. After that, it's a regular pap (cervical) smear for you. Life is hard, and in many ways the sexual dissolution made it harder. As Sister Wilfreda said back in Grade 9 religion, "Sin has its own built-in punishment."
Update: Actually, it seems that men cannot be tested for HPV. This is not good news.
Update 2: A handy article from Uncle Sam. Read all the words.