The Doctor Is In: Getting a Handle on HPV
Talking sex with your doctor isn’t always easy. Whether you are afraid she will judge you, you just don’t feel comfortable sharing the intimate details of your life between the sheets, or you can’t think straight with a speculum between your legs, many people get tight lipped in the doctor’s office. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have questions.
We thought we’d help and every Thursday our friend Dr. Lissa Rankin will be answering your questions. The ones you couldn’t ask your doctor in person. Just leave your questions in the comments, or send em over to us. (We’ll keep it all anonymous for you.) Dr. Lissa will answer anything – really, anything – about sex and other lady things. Don’t be shy; she’s waiting for ya!
Q: I recently found out that I have HPV. I was so shocked and upset by the news that I couldn’t really think of anything to ask my doctor. So, I was wondering what I should do. This was the first time I’ve ever been tested, so do I have to tell every guy I’ve ever been with (even those I didn’t actually have sex with)? And do I have to tell all future partners?
A: First of all, I’m sorry you have Human PapillomaVirus (HPV). If it makes you feel any better, I have had it too. You didn’t say whether your HPV is the type that causes genital warts or abnormal pap smears (they tend to be different strains but may travel together). But I’d be happy to educate you about HPV in general, since you were too freaked out to ask your doc.
What is HPV?
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, and it will infect 75% of young women before the age of 50, if they don’t get vaccinated. What is HPV? It’s the virus that causes genital and anal warts, abnormal pap smears, and cervical cancer. How do you get it? Sex mostly, but even virgins can get it from skin to skin contact while fooling around. And condoms don’t necessarily protect you, since your labia can touch the skin around your partner’s genitals, even with a condom on. All it takes is intimate genital touching between you and your partner.
To make matters worse, the strains of HPV that tend to cause abnormal pap smears and cervical cancer don’t cause any problems in men. SO THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW THEY HAVE IT! Which means they’re passing it around from woman to woman, like a beach ball. You gotta wonder when the guy says, “Oh, that’s so weird. ALL my girlfriends have had abnormal pap smears.” Duh, dude. It’s you!
Even if you’re a virgin when you hook up with a guy, you can end up with HPV- even if he has only slept with one other girl. This is not a disease of freaks and hoochies. (If it is, then I’m one of those hoochies, since I got it from my husband. Poor guy. He feels bad.) Even if you’re really careful, you can still get it, and next thing you know, you’ve got genital warts and cervical cancer. To make matters worse, because HPV is a virus, there’s no real cure, the way there is for most bacteria. Natural treatments aimed at supporting the immune system can help you clear the virus, but ultimately, you’re at the mercy of your immune system. So if you get HPV, you may have it for years.
What Should You Tell Your Partners?
To keep your karma clean, it’s not a bad idea to tell your past and future sexual partners. Chances are, more than half of them have already been exposed, and one of them was the one who gave it to you. Because many strains of HPV do not cause problems for the guy, he may not even know he has it. But technically, anyone who may have been infected by you should tell future sexual partners that they may carry HPV and may be able to transmit it. It gets very complicated, because your immune system may clear you of HPV forever at some point. So will you still be infectious five years from now? Probably not. But maybe. This is why it’s such a big problem. Some women seem to clear HPV, only to have it show up again when their immune system is suppressed, as it normally is during pregnancy.
So What Can You Do About It?
Not a whole lot. If you have access to an integrative medicine doctor or naturopath, they may be able to help you with some herbs and supplements that can stimulate your natural immune response. But otherwise, it’s all about treating any problems the HPV causes. For example, warts can be frozen off or treated with acid or medication. Abnormal pap smears need follow up and sometimes treatment. But there’s no magic pill that can cure your HPV.