Got a health question? Don’t trust those “Doctors” at the University Health Center? Are you scared of Web M.D. because it always tells you you’re gonna die? Ask a real doctor, like our friend Dr. Lissa Rankin. She’s here every Thursday to answer whatever you throw at her – like post-sex soreness – so ask away. Leave your question in the comments or send it over to us. Don’t be shy; she’s waiting for ya!
Q: I found out that I have HPV. So, having sex with my boyfriend, does that mean he has HPV too? And if either of us perform oral sex – can the warts then be transferred to our mouths? Will this lead to cancer? On the paper I got back from the doctor it said to come back in 12 months for another pap smear; will it get worse by then? I’m nervous.
A: HPV can be a sneaky bastard. Unlike sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia, HPV can hang around, unexpressed and asymptomatic, then suddenly rear its ugly head with little warning. Chances are that your partner also has HPV. In fact, chances are good that your boyfriend gave it to you. But it’s possible you could have contracted it from a prior partner and that he doesn’t have it. No way to know for certain, so the best strategy is to behave as if he doesn’t have it, just to protect him.
It’s unclear to me whether you have warts already or whether your HPV just came up on a pap smear. If it’s just a pap smear, chances are good that you carry the type of HPV that causes abnormal paps and cervical cancer, but not genital warts. The good news about this for your partner is that these strains of HPV tend to cause nothing in guys (which is why guys are passing it around like candy. They don’t even know they have it).
If you do have warts, you’ll want to be a bit more careful. While condoms can help reduce the chance of transmitting warts, they can’t protect you completely. Because the condom only covers the shaft of the penis, it leaves vulnerable scrotal skin in contact with potentially infections coochie skin, so it’s important for him to realize that he may still wind up with warts.
As for oral sex, yes, laryngeal warts (warts in the larynx) have been reported. But they’re very rare. HPV tends to prefer the genitals and the anal area, so oral sex is relatively safe. If you want to be uber careful, you can use a dental dam to protect your boyfriend when he’s going down on you, and if you’re worried, have him wear a condom. (I know, it’s not sexy, but it is safe).
If your doc told you to wait a year to repeat your pap smear, I would wait a year. While abnormalities on paps can get worse, they change very slowly, and as long as you don’t miss a pap, you should be fine. Most of all, though, don’t worry. HPV is more of a nuisance than a life-threatening disease, as long as you listen to what your doctor recommends. I know it can be scary and embarrassing, but I commend you for trying to get the information straight. Take a deep breath. Now, let go of any anger, frustration, or shame you feel around this. And let it go. Stressing about HPV only makes it worse. You’ll be fine, sweetie.
For more about HPV, visit my website Owning Pink
– Dr. Lissa Rankin’s book, What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in Fall 2010. She invites you to join her Pink online community (www.owningpink.com/forum) or read more of her writing at Owning Pink (www.owningpink.com).