I thought getting clear had something to do with Xenu
August 27, 2010 4:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm a virgin and my girlfriend has HPV. Need some advice about what I should do and what is or is not safe. (Probably NSFW)

We are both in our mid-20s, she has had only a few sexual partners and I have never done anything more serious than making out. We have been together for a month and she recently told me that the reason we haven't gotten more physical is that she has HPV. She is not sure which strain, but she dated a guy a few months ago, started seeing symptoms, and went to the doctor and was diagnosed. I really like her and do not want to end the relationship over this.

I know that HPV is extremely common, and yet there is still a significant stigma against it (the dating section of the hpvforum is not giving me a lot of confidence) and it can have serious repercussions. The one good thing I guess is that if she had warts it is probably a lower-risk strain. I know that as a male it is unlikely that I will even see symptoms if I get it, but I care about the other women that I could theoretically be sexually active with in the future. I also know that there is a vaccine that protects against some of the strains available for men now, which is possibly the only case where being a 20-something-year-old virgin is an advantage.

Condoms do not fully protect against it, and I have read a lot of conflicting information about how it can be spread (apparently even through kissing, so I could already have it). So, should I be holding off on actual sex until the infection clears? How would I even know when that happens? Should I get the (expensive) vaccine, hope it protects against this particular strain, and wait six months for it to take effect? Even if I do wait, what exactly can we do that is safe? Is giving oral with a barrier safe, or receiving oral? Manual stimulation? Being naked in the same room together? This whole sex thing is more complicated than I thought it would be.
posted by sickle cell moon to Health & Fitness (19 answers total)

I really wouldn't worry about this. A ridiculously large percentage of the population has HPV. Go ahead and do what you and she want to do. Remind her to get a pap smear annually.
posted by amro at 4:24 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

You should talk to your doctor about it.

The vaccine is a good idea, because it can prevent cancers, and you spreading cancer-causing strains to other future sexual partners.

But the virus never goes away, and you are correct in that it's common. I think both you and your girlfriend are over-analyzing the situation and needlessly shaming yourselves, feeling "dirty" because you have and STD or something. Really, you already did the best thing which is talk about it. She knows she has it so now she will have a reason to get her yearly gyno exam (so many women don't and that's a bad bad idea) and make sure nothing is escalating. Cervical Cancer is very highly treatable if caught at a yearly exam. When I say highly treatable, I mean the affected piece of the cervix is surgically removed. No chemo, no radiation, unlikely to spread if caught early. You know so that if you see the signs of a wort (the only sign you're likely to see if any) then you don't freak out and can go have your doc check it out.

Keep away from that hpvforum, that scared me reading from your link. I think it's a tad over-dramatic over there...

Anyway I guess you can think of HPV in the same way that you think of your family members getting cold sores. Cold sores are herpes. Sometimes my mom or dad would get a cold sore. But I still kiss them at Christmas.
posted by WeekendJen at 4:25 PM on August 27, 2010

Best answer: I'm with amro. I don't have HPV but I DO have herpes and it is a similar story in that it can be spread at any time, condoms don't protect, a lot of people are asymptomatic etc.

I just wanted to offer my anecdotal experience which is that my husband and I had protect sex (condoms for vaginal and anal, but never dental dams or condoms for oral) for about 2 years and have been having unprotected sex (hormonal birth control only) for about 2 years and IF he has contracted herpes (and he very well may have) he has been completely without symptoms or ill effects. I can feel and outbreak "coming on" so sometimes I put a moratorium on sex for a week until I am again without symptoms.

STI's aren't the big, huge, scary deal in practice that they often are in theory. Whether than trying to figure out what is completely free of risk, I would recommend trying to decide what risk YOU are comfortable with and proceed accordingly.
posted by Saminal at 4:29 PM on August 27, 2010

The vaccine is still an option for you. But, generally, HPV is not a big deal. It sounds like you are getting a lot of conflicting information and just wrong information.

Go to your local Planned Parenthood and discuss your options with them. A qualified person can give you good information about what this means for your sex life.
posted by munchingzombie at 4:31 PM on August 27, 2010

Best answer: While HPV can cause issues in men, it usually does not. A huge percentage of the population will contract HPV at some point. It can go away/lie dormant (experts still aren't completely sure which is the case in people who had HPV but for whom later HPV tests are negative) for sure. Odds are you would contract HPV if you were sexually active, but would never find out unless you got one of the strains that causes genital warts.
If you have sex with her and get HPV, you will most likely never know either way because there are no effective HPV tests for men right now. You could be at a higher risk for penile cancer, but just keep an eye out for any unusual symptoms, make sure to get your yearly physicals, and it should be fine.
I would talk to your doctor for more specific advice. Since the vaccine has been approved for me now, a doctor can advise you on whether it's a good choice for you. Most people (women at least) are fully covered after the 2nd shot, but they do the 3rd one because a few people are not, and there's no way to be sure who is and who isn't after the second one unless they are exposed to HPV in the interim and become infected. So, if the same is true for men, you are most likely covered after the first 2, which I believe are 3 months apart. Honestly, if I were a man, I would not worry so much about it. IANAD, etc.
posted by elpea at 4:35 PM on August 27, 2010

* that should say has been approved for men now
posted by elpea at 4:36 PM on August 27, 2010

Yea I should clarify. I have both mouth herpes (I get cold sores) and I have had positive HPV readings in pap smears. Neither should prevent you from intimate relationships (save for not makin out for a few days if you feel a cold sore coming- if your partner doesn't already get them because those are extremely common too). Cold sores, minor as they are, are a thousand times more annoying and crappy-feeling-causing than HPV.
posted by WeekendJen at 4:37 PM on August 27, 2010

Best answer: But the virus never goes away

My understanding is that most healthy people clear the virus forever in under two years. I'm (a guy) sleeping with a girl without a condom who has a cancer causing form of HPV. I knew that before I started sleeping with her. I will disclose this to all future potential partners and let them make their own decision. But I'm 29 and I've had lots of (careful, intimate, affectionate) sex and if that bugs someone then I don't really want to sleep with them anyway. Everyone needs to make this decision themselves.

Also, get your facts straight:
posted by zeek321 at 4:43 PM on August 27, 2010

I'm guessing you aren't in school because you didn't mention it, but if you are, or go back to school, your school health insurance might cover the vaccine so be sure to check that out.
posted by andoatnp at 5:16 PM on August 27, 2010

Response by poster: I'm guessing you aren't in school because you didn't mention it, but if you are, or go back to school, your school health insurance might cover the vaccine so be sure to check that out.

No I'm not in school, and probably won't be going back anytime soon. I have health insurance through my job, but it is a high deductible one so I think I would have to pay the full cost myself anyway. Thanks though.
posted by sickle cell moon at 5:30 PM on August 27, 2010

FYI- a friend of mine was declined individual health insurance in the US because she had HPV so there's that risk too.
posted by fshgrl at 6:28 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: FYI- a friend of mine was declined individual health insurance in the US because she had HPV so there's that risk too.

Wow, that sucks. But there's no test for guys at this point so I doubt insurance companies would have any way of knowing I've been infected, since I won't even know unless I actually get warts.
posted by sickle cell moon at 6:32 PM on August 27, 2010

Since this is your first girlfriend, you may not end up in a committed relationship with her and may go on to have future girlfriends. Do you want to infect your future girlfriends/wives with HPV if you contract it? Probably not.

Also, you should actually talk to a health professional about HPV and not AskMetafilter. There are a lot of people who think because something is really common it's okay to spread it around. There are others who don't want an STI. Talk to a health professional. I, for one, could do without it in this country where it's hard enough to afford healthcare even after having pretty decent health insurance.

There's more to all of this than "Oh, it's really common, don't worry about it." So talk to a real health professional about STDs and STIs and not people on MetaFilter. Please.

Start by taking a look at this page.
posted by anniecat at 7:50 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Since this is your first girlfriend, you may not end up in a committed relationship with her and may go on to have future girlfriends. Do you want to infect your future girlfriends/wives with HPV if you contract it? Probably not.

No, I don't, which is more or less the entire point of this question. The health professionals at the CDC website that you linked to say this:

Because HPV is so common and usually invisible, the only sure way to prevent it is not to have sex

I have been using that method to not contract or expose anyone to HPV my whole life. I am fully aware of that option already. And I like the girl I'm with now enough that I would rather stay with her and continue to not have sex than break up and start a relationship with someone who is 100% clean. Yes, it feels shitty to know that my choices are to continue to never have sex with anyone or contract a disease that most likely will not harm me but could through my later actions give someone cancer. That sucks. I am asking about it here because most people seem to be able to have healthy sex lives despite the fact that the disease is so widespread, and I am wondering what normal people do in this situation.
posted by sickle cell moon at 8:50 PM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You seem a thoughtful and considerate person and you definitely don't have to make the choice never to have sex because of this. There is prevention for women now and that is going to make life better for men as well as women. Talk this over with a professional and get the best information.
posted by Anitanola at 9:34 PM on August 27, 2010

Chances are that most of these women you're thinking of staying a virgin to protect have already been exposed to it by someone else. Talk to professional if you're really worried, but in terms of protecting women you are better off just reminding them to get annual pap smears.
posted by amro at 7:45 AM on August 28, 2010

From Wikipedia: Most HPV infections in young females are temporary and have little long-term significance. 70% of infections are gone in 1 year and 90% in 2 years. However, when infection persists—in 5% to 10% of infected women—there is high risk of developing cervical precancer (lesions on the cervix), which can progress to invasive cervical cancer. This process usually takes 15–20 years, providing many opportunities for detection and treatment of the pre-cancerous condition, often with high cure rates.
posted by amro at 7:47 AM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I agree with anniecat. It's disheartening and plain scary that the first piece of advice in this thread is basically "keep on keeping on". No you shouldn't freak out and be afraid to be naked in the same room, and you can totally have a healthy sex life, but you should definitely talk with a doctor about Gardisil and be sure to tell any future partner that you've been exposed to a potentially cancer-causing STI. Not to mention, warts probably suck and can be expensive to treat if they don't go away on their own.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 7:54 AM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Okay, keep in mind that 95% of the people on Metafilter think catching a permanent STD is no big whoop, so anyone who isn't all "Yeah, it's common like dirt, no big deal, you're gonna get it anyway if you have sex, period" tends to get ignored or blown off. Doctors do the exact same thing in my experience, so be forewarned. (Disclaimer: former health reporter who did enough articles on STD's to get really angry with what I found out.)

Sure, if you "clear" the virus (and what the hell does that MEAN, anyway? Last I checked, you have a virus for life, whether it acts up again or not), fine, whatever. If you have one outbreak of something or other and never have another one again, I guess that's doable, but unfortunately there are a few folks out there who ended up with crappy consequences/the virus being far more serious than it is for most people. And I don't think it's utterly unreasonable to factor that into your decisions. And since as a dude, you can't get tested for jack shit with regards to HPV really, I admire you for thinking this out ahead of time. Though at least in this case, we know enough about the science that the warts strain does not equal cancer, so there's that to your advantage for future girlfriends.

But what it does boil down to, as you know, is "if you have sex with this girl, assume you can pass warts on to anyone else you sleep with for life." And deep down, if you're not okay with making that decision for everyone else in your entire life in your 20's, then hold off. That's an irreversible step you're taking, even if everyone else here thinks it's minor.

One question, though: is your current girlfriend okay with never having sex (of any variety?) with you for your entire relationship?
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:38 AM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

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