Sex+How much time?=Abnormal Pap Smear
February 27, 2012 8:42 AM   Subscribe

What is the incubation period of HPV?

I've been seeing someone exclusively for three months. She told me that she had an abnormal pap smear, and has been diagnosed with HPV. "YOU!! must have infected me", she yelled. I can't imagine that being the case as I have had sexual contact with only three people. Her, and two other women. The first woman and I were both virgins and we were faithful to each other while we were involved. The second woman was not a virgin, but her previous and only other partner was a confirmed virgin. She still hasn't had sex with anyone else (just the virgin and me). The only thing she bases her idea on is that her last pap smear from a year ago was "clean" and now it isn't.

I've googled quite a bit for this, and I've found anywhere from "immediately" to "several years". Whats fact on this? Could I have given her HPV and have it show up as an abnormal pap smear after 6-7 weeks after the first sexual contact?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
You don't have to have sex to get HPV, any contact in that area can do it. As far as I understand, it also can show up years after the fact. I don't really think she should be accusing you; even if you had it, there's no test for men (as far as I know) and it's really not the end of the world. Most people I know have had it.
posted by queens86 at 8:45 AM on February 27, 2012

"A person can have HPV even if years have passed since he or she had sexual contact with an infected person. Most infected persons do not realize they are infected or that they are passing the virus on to a sex partner. It is also possible to get more than one type of HPV"

This info from CDC may be helpful.
posted by pointystick at 8:59 AM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I found A Scenic Guide to Your Abnormal Pap Smear to be very educational with regards to both HPV infections and pap smears.
...I feel your focus turning to the next important matter: who fucking gave me this shit? Oof we can’t really know who or even when. This is because most HPV infections clear up on their own without any symptoms and are therefore never detected. So a new HPV diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the last person you had sex with, or there were more people having sex with the people you were having sex with than you thought. There’s also no HPV test for dudes, even if they say “test me for everything.” And that’s probably the best we’re able to do until someone figures out how to make a cervix talk.

The only thing we can say definitively about how you got HPV is that it wasn’t because you were a slut because sluts don’t exist. That’s right: you are the same person you were 25 minutes ago in the waiting room. There is no reason why you should stop doing anything sexy that made you happy before you got diagnosed. There is no reason why you should not get close to another person again. There is no reason you should now regret something you didn’t regret before...
posted by muddgirl at 9:26 AM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

There is no way to know who infected her, because there is no definite incubation period and no definitive test in the absence of warts/abnormal pap/etc. HPV is just a risk that comes with being sexually active and she shouldn't be getting mad at you. You may have given it to her, even if that sounds unlikely, or one of her previous partners may have and she's only symptomatic now. If she's unable to deal with this maturely without blame she shouldn't be having sex with anyone.

However, it concerns me that you don't mention having any testing done recently yourself for things other than HPV. You absolutely should have testing regularly whether or not you've "only" slept with virgins or "only two other people." You're low risk, but not zero risk, and it's entirely possible you are carrying other STIs because 1) people lie about their previous sexual experience 2) you can be a "virgin" in the penetration sense and still get an STI via oral or skin contact.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:27 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Self-inoculation, which is basically where one infects their genitals with HPV from elsewhere on the body, it also a possibility. Correlation is not causality with HPV, and your lover's attitude is counter productive and not fact based.
posted by OmieWise at 9:35 AM on February 27, 2012

Her reaction may be irrational/emotional but it's also completely understandable to me. Look, it is in general really fucking terrifying to find out that you have an STD, even if it's 'just' HPV. Not everyone knows that HPV is incredibly common and that many people have it and don't even know about it. There's a reason the link I posted explicitely states that having HPV does not mean that someone is a 'slut' - it's stated because a lot of women feel that way when they find out they have HPV.

Lashing out at you is not productive, of course, and it's not acceptable. Deal with that outside the fact that she has an STD (which, yes, she may have gotten from you even though you've only had two other sexual partners who were PIV virgins).
posted by muddgirl at 9:45 AM on February 27, 2012

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks for your responses so far, but nobody has really helped me answer the question I have. I know it can be up to a few years before HPV is detected in a person, but can HPV be detected (abnormal pap smear) 6-7 weeks after first contact with exposure?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:57 AM on February 27, 2012

I think your real question needs to be asked of a gynecologist, honestly. I don't think Metafilter can tell you what a googling couldn't, unless you find an OBGYN on here.

However, my personal story is that I got HPV on a pap smear long after your GF did, possibly even 2 paps (so a little over a year) into my relationship with my husband which has always been exclusive, and I had HPV. There is 0% chance it could've been my husband that gave it to me for reasons I won't get into, and 100% it came from a person before him nearly 2 years prior. It was a little weird, but after some googling he realized it was normal and I wasn't some kind of hussy. It sucked, though.
posted by kpht at 11:04 AM on February 27, 2012

That's the hell of it, is that nobody knows, really.

Issuing the disclaimer that i'm not a doctor, and am basing what I"m saying on my own obsessive googling after I tested positive for HPV once - HPV isn't just one virus, it's a bunch of them- kind of like a cold. The common cold is a viral thing; like all other viral infections, after you get a cold, you are immune to that particular virus. But the thing is that there are so many different KINDS of cold virii out there, that you just keep getting new colds (and becoming immune to each one in turn).

HPV similarly has a bunch of different strains; I've read there are as many as 200. It's kind of like the common cold of stds in that regard. However -- UNlike the cold, lots of strains are asymptomatic, or they're only symptomatic in one gender but not the other. It's easy to figure out who you caught a cold from, because those cause symptoms in everybody -- if you're sneezing now, it's a safe bet that the person you ate lunch with who was sneezing two weeks ago probably gave it to you. But if the cold didn't cause symptoms, it'd be harder to tell whether you caught your cold from the person you had lunch with two days ago, the person you had dinner with two weeks ago, or what. And if you don't know who you got your cold from, you can't tell how long the incubation period is.

There's just a lot of conflicting information about HPV, unfortunately, so your original question may not get all that straight an answer, I'm afraid.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:29 AM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

HPV is not detected by a Pap smear. It's detected by a separate (if related) HPV test.

One can have HPV and also have clear Pap smears, so unless she's been previously tested for HPV and tested negative, she may have misleading information. Many gyns DO test for HPV at the same time (as they should) but a Pap smear is specifically looking for cellular abnormalities, and an HPV test is a test for the presence of the virus. If this is the first time she's gotten an abnormal Pap smear, leading to her first HPV test and diagnosis, she doesn't have any information about how long she's had HPV.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:19 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

This says the incubation period for the strain that causes genital warts is at the lowest end, one month, and more typically 2-3 months. Other sources suggest the strain that causes cervical cancer takes even longer to produce symptoms.

If you're trying to "prove" that it's not you, you're not listening to everyone else in this thread who made relevant points about the difficulty of pinpointing the timing or transmitter of the infection.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:37 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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