Q: I’m 24, and I just found out that I have HPV. I’ve apparently had it for months without knowing, during which time, I started sleeping casually with a guy. I still see him about twice a month. Unfortunately, the first time we banged, we were both pretty blitzed and didn’t use a condom. After that, I felt weird asking him to wrap up, so we haven’t. I know! Terrible!
So now, he may or may not have HPV. There’s no test for men, the only way for a guy to know if he has it is if he gets warts (and many people don’t), or if a woman knows for sure that she got it from him and then tells him. The only way he’ll know if I gave him this STD, basically, is if he screws a virgin and at her next pap smear, she has it.
What should I do? If I were starting a new relationship, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but it’s been months. And it’s not like I was cheating on him (not that we’re monogamous). So my question is: how much do I actually have to tell him?
A. You don’t.
There, wasn’t that easy?
Don’t get me wrong: In most cases, I will never, ever advocate for anything less than total honesty when it comes to STD confessions. If you’re mature enough to have sex, then you must also be mature enough to tell potential partners about that little extra something you picked up during spring break in 2003. But HPV is a special case. Why? Because for most people, being infected with the virus is just part of the deal when it comes to having sex. Think of it as a freebie! … A lousy, occasionally wart-covered freebie that nobody wants.
The facts are as follows: The majority of sexually active adults will contract HPV at some point in their lifetimes — 80% of ‘em, according to some estimates. Sleep with more than one person, and the likelihood jumps close to 100%. Some people get warts; most people will never know they have it. So basically, the whole wide sexually-active world has HPV, and the chances are good that this guy (presumably not a virgin) already had it when you met him. And while (cue morally-charged shouting) YOU SHOULD ALWAYS PRACTICE SAFE SEX, condoms wouldn’t necessarily have helped much in this case, because HPV isn’t technically an STD — it can be transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, not just by fluids. Which means that your dude’s hypothetical Future Virgin Bride could still be infected pre-sex if she’s ever so much as bumped into a naked penis.
For the record, my answer would be different if you knew that you had a strain that’s high-risk for cervical cancer, or if you were sporting an archipelago of warts, or if you hadn’t actually slept together yet. But there’s nothing to be accomplished by telling this guy — who you’ve already had sex with, and who more than likely is already toting his own version of the virus — about your infected status. (For the record, there’s no argument AGAINST telling him either, except for the fact that you that you obviously don’t want to. I doubt he’d be surprised; a smart guy in his mid-twenties is going to be aware that HPV is a pretty likely result of casual sex.)
And while you might want to be upfront about this with future partners, for karma’s sake, this probably won’t be an issue forever. An HPV diagnosis doesn’t mean that you’re in for a lifetime of contagious ladyparts; many infections will clear from your body naturally within a couple of years.