"I'm sorry, but we can't keep dating because I am unclean and a slut."
March 4, 2013 1:15 PM   Subscribe

I have an abnormal pap. It is probable that I have HPV. I am very young, I don't have a partner, and I would like one. How is one even supposed to date anymore?

I just got my annual pap smear results back. They're abnormal (the kind with abnormal cells, not the kind with cancer, but still). I'm not overly concerned about the health risks because there is enough family history of uterine/cervical cancer that I've basically always just figured I'm going to get it sooner or later, like diabetes. What I am (probably unsurprisingly) concerned about are the social risks.

So yes: I probably have HPV. I've slept with enough people spaced far enough apart that there's basically no way to tell who I got it from (which also means I can't fall back on the plausibly deniable "I was monogamous and he didn't tell me" excuse; if a guy wants to think I am irresponsible or a slut, it's not like I can refute that.) I've always used protection (since I'm not on the Pill), and nobody ever warned me they had anything, but obviously that doesn't prevent matters and is also useless now. I didn't have the vaccine when I was growing up because my mother didn't think it was safe, and now I kind of hate her for it.

The problem is, I am also actively dating, and as I feel like I've gone into in great detail before, I've never had good results with dating even without this added strike against me. Put more bluntly, I was fairly certain I would die alone even without having to tell people I have an STD. Like, what the hell do I even tell people? I know it's supposedly incredibly common in people who are sexually active, and I know most of my partners have almost certainly been exposed; but I also know that only 10% of pap smears come back abnormal, which means there are roughly 90% of women that men can decide to date instead (yes, the math is fuzzy, but either way it's going to be a huge fucking majority), and I also know that having "the talk" is not incredibly common at all, and that this sort of information is not widely taught and not the sort of thing you'd Google unless you're having a scare, which is something mostly women do, and I also know most of all that if men can find a reason to judge women, they will do so.

Like, how do you even say it? What is the script even? There are no good words. "HPV" sounds like "HIV" which of course would freak people the fuck out, and that's in addition to the sheer fact that I have an STD. "Warts" sounds gross and scary (and I don't even know if I have any yet. The gyno didn't see any when I got the pap but you never know.) "Cancer" sounds awful and scary, even if it's mostly a female risk. "Human papilloma virus" sounds clinical and euphemistic, like I am trying to hide something which is in fact that I am unclean and they can find someone else who is not, which is a thing that happens to me so often anyway. Everything I've read about telling people makes it sound like it is some sort of Grave Discussions along the lines of being institutionalized or having a criminal record, or at least sounds like it'd come off that way. (I've heard the arguments that it's not worth telling people, and while I see the logic the whole thing makes me uncomfortable; there'll be more women going through this eventually without knowing, and given that I am literally in tears typing this I don't really feel good about subjecting them to the same reaction.)

And when is it done? I've dated dozens of people and have had this conversation only a handful of times. It's just not done; even the people I've dated whose timetables were fairly slow on this sort of thing didn't bring it up. And, like, am I supposed to go back and get in contact with everyone I've been with who's faded on me, who I haven't spoken to in months by their decision, and tell them this? Am I supposed to just stop having sex with people entirely (which, given how dating works here, is incredibly hard to do; most people seem to want it on the second or third date)? I know there are dating sites for people with STDs, but the idea of using one of them, but the idea just fills me with disgust even before I consider the prospect of putting my pictures and personal info on one of those for all to see, or considering the decimated dating pool I'd be in and the caliber of people there.

Basically, I am not the sort of person who can afford any more strikes against her, and yet here I am and I'm miserable. The whole thing makes me feel even worse because if someone had just decided to stay with me instead of making me keep dating around then this might not have happened.
posted by dekathelon to Human Relations (88 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
(oh, and I forgot: my follow-up appointment is Thursday morning - they didn't have anything earlier, I asked, if I could I'd go in right away.)
posted by dekathelon at 1:18 PM on March 4, 2013


Whoa. First off, about 75% of sexually active men and women get HPV at some point in their lives -- so you are not even close to alone.

Second. You sound like you are just bathing in self-hate right now. You have a ton of shame about an HPV diagnosis, which you don't have yet. Is there something else going on? I know the go-to is therapy on the green, but it sounds like you might need to talk some stuff out.

Third. Most women who have HPV don't know it. A smart partner knows that - so if you do have HPV, your partner is more informed than when he or she has sex with someone with an unknown HPV status.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:23 PM on March 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


Aw, honey. I-Am-Not-a-Doctor, HOWEVER: while only a small percentage of Paps are abnormal, MOST sex-having grown-ups (not sure of the exact numbers, but it's the majority) have HPV. Why don't ALL Paps come back abnormal, then? Because most womens' bodies manage to "clear" the HPV virus, usually within a few years. So please take a deep breath (and maybe take a shot of hooch, if that will help), and bear these things in mind:

- This is not a death sentence - literally OR socially.
- This is not even a LIFE sentence... your body will clear this infection, in all likelihood.
- The strain of HPV that causes abnormal Paps is a DIFFERENT strain than the one that causes genital warts. While there is bound to be vocal disagreement on this, I personally do NOT feel that you need to divulge that you have the abnormal-Pap strain to a new partner, so long as you're wrapping it up.

In conclusion: you are neither unclean NOR a slut NOR damaged. You have a bug that the vast majority of sex-having people have at some point in their lives. It's the genital equivalent of getting food poisoning: totally normal, totally temporary, and just a sign that you've lived richly.
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:26 PM on March 4, 2013 [20 favorites]


Oh, honey. Check the CDC: "HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives."

You are not a slut. YOU ARE NOT A SLUT. You are not unclean. You are normal.

Take a deep breath, and try not to freak out until you get the results of your testing back. If it turns out that you do test positive for HPV, then you might want to ask the doctor's opinion on how to tell your partners. If you test positive, personally, I think if I were in your shoes, I would say, "I had an abnormal pap smear once that came back with a positive test for the virus that can cause cervical cancer in some women, so I think it would be best if we made sure to use protection."
posted by BlueJae at 1:26 PM on March 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


1. The title of your post is horrifying, and I hope you don't really think of yourself that way (I realize that you put it in quotes as if to be ironic, but the fact that you'd even type it leads me to believe that you believe it so stop that).

2. Is this your first ever pap? Did your gyno tell you that abnormal paps are pretty normal? There are other causes besides HPV. Did you get an HPV test? (on preview, it looks like you'll get one at your follow up.) If you've been using protection everytime, it seems unlikely that you're infected because apparently condoms are effective at preventing HPV transfer to the area that they cover.

3. IF you're HPV postive, how/when to say it? Just say it when it seems like things are progressing to sexy times. Yeah, HPV sounds like HIV, but honestly, would you want to do it with a dude who did an ignorant kneejerk over it?

4. It seems like you have a lot of disgust for people with STDs, and yet you believe yourself to have performed acts that would lead you to getting an STD. Which loops back to #1 - why do you dislike yourself so much?
posted by sparklemotion at 1:26 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


First off, it might be helpful to reframe your thinking about the "caliber" of people who have, at some point, contracted an STD. You are judging them, and therefore, by extension, judging yourself.

You are not a slut, there is nothing to refute. And if a guy decides that you are a slut because you have HPV, for fuck's sake, dump him so fast his head's not going to stop spinning until 2014. If this hypothetical man calls you a slut, consider yourself LUCKY that he showed you exactly how horrifying of a human being he is before you got any further.

Talk to your doctor about the precautions you should take when having sex. Hell, have your doctor test you for HPV, you don't even know if you have it yet. Talk about the possibility of getting the vaccine anyway, it covers strands of HPV that you may not have, for example.

But first off. Calm down, think long and hard about why you think people living with STDs are unclean (because they're not), and wait until you can discuss the medical aspects with your doctor before catastrophizing.
posted by lydhre at 1:27 PM on March 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


I tested positive for this for a couple of years and it eventually went away. Your body will probably fight it off, especially since you are young. Don't fret. Use condoms.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:28 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've had an abnormal pap and HPV and it cleared up within a year or two. I am also not unclean, nor a slut -- AND NEITHER ARE YOU. This is really, really common.

Please speak to your therapist about this level of self-loathing and shame. It is the real culprit here, not an infection that literally tens of millions of people have right now.
posted by scody at 1:32 PM on March 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Okay, take a big deep breath.

Now let it out.

Okay. I also tested positive for HPV for a few years. And yes, I would tell potential partners this. And here is exactly what I said:

"I have tested positive for HPV in the past, but from what I understand about it, about 75% of everyone has it and most people are asyptomatic. So it's possible you've already got it too anyway. But even so, I'd feel better if you wore a condom anyway, for your own protection, on top of wearing it for birth control anyway. Okay?"

And every single last guy I said that to was okay with it. Honestly. I would tell them this a little bit before we were going to go the full monty (i.e., either he said that this is what he wanted to do, or we were making out and about to take each other's pants off); it wasn't like the first thing I ever told them, but I gave them enough warning so they could still back out if they wanted (and again, NONE of them ever did). It was just part of my usual "okay, before we have sex here's the deal" talk that I insist on, in which I also talk about my HIV status (negative) and safe sex rules (I have always insisted on the guy using a condom even when I was HPV negative, and I always tell them "that's not negotiable").

You are not "Unclean" and you are not a slut. You will find people who accept this and are cool with it.

You will be fine. I promise.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:33 PM on March 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I know it's incredibly common, like I said, but I also know that it is not so common for girls to tell guys - I have never heard of it happening - enough that it is probably going to seem like a freak occurrence. And, like, historically speaking you would never go broke betting on men calling women sluts. The societal stigma is there, and now there is a pretty good chance of someone otherwise perfect for me deciding to dump me because he doesn't want the risk. And I can't really blame him. I'd do the same.

For what it's worth I've only had "the talk" twice, and both times I had to press for it. In my experience it just doesn't happen, people use a condom and be done with it.
posted by dekathelon at 1:34 PM on March 4, 2013


Oh geez, are you done beating yourself up yet? You're not a slut, you're not unclean, you are a person with a thing.

Talk to your doctor about treatment and about how to discuss with future partners, it may be a moot point. Besides you're wrapping it up each and every time, and that's pretty much what you need to do.

You may not even have HPV. Even if you do, no one is going to make you wear a scarlet letter.

You shouldn't be having sex with people that you're not comfortable enough to bring this up with. You should only be having sex with people who value and cherish you, or at least who think that you'll both have a good time. Don't have sex with people who would cheapen you or make you feel bad. Don't have sex with people to keep them dating you, you'll just end up hurt.

A lot of men have HPV and because they don't see a genital doctor annually, like women do, they may never find out. That's just how it is.

You really need to start thinking more of yourself. You are a beautiful and worthwhile person and there will be men who want to date you, not for sex, but because they love your company and your brain, the sex is just icing on the cake.

I know I think therapy is awesome, and in this case you need to work with someone who will teach you to value yourself and to hold your self in very high esteem.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:34 PM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


So regarding the HPV vaccination, you kinda need to let your mother off the hook as you've been an adult for the majority of time that the HPV vaccine has been available. Also, you can still get the vaccine.
With both [types of HPV] vaccines, you will have the greatest protection from HPV if you are vaccinated BEFORE becoming sexually active. The vaccine does not help to get rid of HPV infection or any cervical abnormality after it has occurred. However, if you are less than 26 years old and you have been sexually active, had genital warts, a positive HPV test, or an abnormal Pap smear, you may still obtain some (albeit less) benefit from the HPV vaccine.
Cite, emphasis mine.
posted by jamaro at 1:34 PM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry - this all sounds scary. But I don't think this needs to be a death sentence for your love life.

I could be wrong but I kind of think that guys don't care about HPV because I'm not sure that it does anything for them. I don't even think that there is a way to test men for HPV. That should tell you a lot about how not concerned men are about it. If a guy judges you for having something that a ton of women have, that says more about him than it says about you.

As for when to bring it up, I would wait until it seems like having sex is in the picture. As for how, there was a recent episode of Girls that mentioned HPV - you can ask the person if they watch the show, did they see this episode, it hit home for you because, etc. Or you could ask about his family, talk about your family and how cancer runs in your family so it freaked you out when you found out you had an abnormal pap smear. You could do something cute like ask for three things you need to know about him and then say, here is stuff you need to know about me: a) [cute thing about you], b) [cute thing about you], c) I had an abnormal pap.

In general, if you talk about this like it's a huge deal, he will see it as a huge deal. I don't think it's a huge deal so you shouldn't treat it like that. But you can definitely say, I feel uncomfortable talking about this but I thought that I should tell you. You're not damaged goods. Everyone has baggage. This is just part of your baggage. Also, bring info to the conversation - check out Planned Parenthood so you can inform whoever that this isn't the end of the world.
posted by kat518 at 1:35 PM on March 4, 2013


Oh, another thing I've just remembered - a couple of the guys I mentioned this to knew all about HPV already; I'd get up to the "I test positive, and from what I understand about 75% of everyone does" and he'd say, "yeah, I've heard that too...okay, cool, condoms it is."

This is not a Scarlet Letter, honestly.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:35 PM on March 4, 2013


If you are really freaked out about telling people, then just wait a couple months and get another pap, which wil probably be clean, because that is typically what happens.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:36 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been the dude on the other end of this convo. Being progressive and open minded, I was all "Okay", and that was it. This is not a cross to bear and and be broken by, it's a medical condition that many people have. Protect yourself and your partner, you are a fine upstanding young woman, and I'd be more apt to be OK with sharing my body with you since you were so open about what is going on with yours.

Chin up.
posted by deezil at 1:37 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The societal stigma is there, and now there is a pretty good chance of someone otherwise perfect for me deciding to dump me because he doesn't want the risk."

That hypothetical guy is NOT otherwise perfect for you. Or me. Or a lot of people.
posted by kat518 at 1:39 PM on March 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


I had abnormal cells on my last pap. (lots of my girlfriends have). I explained to my new boyfriend that I had abnormal cells and I would have to go get another pap in 6 months and if it came back abnormal again I would have to go for further testing. He was worried about me, health wise but wasn't grossed out or thought I was a slut or anything. I was pretty freaked out at first. But I'm fine with it now, the first couple days I did feel pretty funny/sad about it though. So just try to relax.
posted by blueberrypicasso at 1:39 PM on March 4, 2013


Whew, you have a lot going on! Hoepfully the support you're already seeing in this thread will help.
Let's break it down into more manageable chunks:

1) The pap smear
Hopefully you'll get some better counseling at your folllow-up visit than you did at your initial. An abnormal pap smear does not mean you have HPV, although obviously yes it's not uncommon for that to be the case. Don't freak out in advance of your data. Once the results of your HPV test are back then you will know more.

2) If you have HPV
As everyone else is saying, HPV is super common, it does not reflect poorly on your own morals or conduct, or even necessarily on your partner's given that most carriers don't know they have it. The CDC factsheet on HPV will help get you some more information.
IMPORTANT FOR YOU: "Most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems. Most HPV infections (90%) go away by themselves within two years"

Also jamaro's advice above about the vaccine is spot on.

3) Conversations about STDs
Assuming you have insurance you should be able to get a referral through your primary provider to someone who can help you learn about this stuff and how to bring it up. There is also a ton of free info online. Here is one source, there are many others.

4) Your self-worth
Other people have addressed this already better than I can. You should stop beating yourself up about this. This is something you could cover in therapy.
posted by Wretch729 at 1:39 PM on March 4, 2013


(Example of a guy who's considering dumping a girl over this; a LOT of the answers are along the lines of "dude don't stick your dick in disease." [yes it's female/female in that case but lots of answers seemed not to realize that.] And that's even taking into account the people using a site like this are probably more liberal/openminded than the general population of guys in re: dealbreakers.)
posted by dekathelon at 1:40 PM on March 4, 2013


And, like, historically speaking you would never go broke betting on men calling women sluts. The societal stigma is there, and now there is a pretty good chance of someone otherwise perfect for me deciding to dump me because he doesn't want the risk. And I can't really blame him. I'd do the same.

If he's going to dump you for getting an STD that literally 3/4 of the population will get, and that will probably clear out of your system in a few years, and that you can drastically reduce (although, I feel it's important to mention, not eliminate) the risk of through safe sex practices, instead of talking to you about comfort levels and risk-taking and safe sex, then trust me, you don't want to be dating him anyway.

I know it's incredibly common, like I said, but I also know that it is not so common for girls to tell guys - I have never heard of it happening - enough that it is probably going to seem like a freak occurrence.

It's common. I have lots of friends who have disclosed their status and exposure risks for all sorts of things. The reason you don't hear about it is that when hookups or relationships are formed on mutual respect, no one goes around blabbing anyone else's medical history. It's no one's business but the two partners, and therefore, no one else gets to know, unless the disclose-ee also decides to tell their friends (which is how I know.) But I promise it happens. My current partner disclosed his exposure risk for HPV in great detail to me; in part because of that, I ended up getting Gardasil and now we have happy condom-free sex. So see, it does happen, and it is not a deal-breaker!

I hear your HPV question and I think that has been answered pretty thoroughly. But I really, really, really think you need to talk to a mental health professional, preferably a sex therapist, about your outlook on dating and sex and relationships. Yes, men can be assholes, and yes, culturally there is a lot of slut-shaming going on. This does not mean the men that you interact with, individually, are going to be assholes to you because you caught the sexual equivalent of the common cold. And this does not give them an excuse or a reason to slut shame you. If they were going to do that, they would have found another reason anyway. You are a person of worth and deserving of excellent treatment and real affection and respect, regardless of whether or not you have a disease-- any disease.
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:42 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I told a dude I had it, and he said, "Really? Oh." And then we dated for like a year. And then I didn't have it anymore after a few months. I went to the doctor and they said it was gone. I was all twisted up about it, as well, but it turned out to be nothing.
posted by amodelcitizen at 1:43 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eh. It happens. Lots of people have it, lots of people get it, lots of times it clears up without you ever knowing you've had it.

If someone is interested in you long term then this is something that they'll be willing to work around. I've known people with much bigger issues than this (like: sex causes them to have a panic attack) who have had happy relationships anyway.

You do need to tell people. I think it's dishonest not to. The first date is probably too soon and when the guy has removed his pants and put on his Spiderman outfit is probably too late. If things are moving faster than you'd like then slow them down. You can do that. It works.

I know it's incredibly common, like I said, but I also know that it is not so common for girls to tell guys - I have never heard of it happening

Happened to me. Not HPV, but a different STD. We used a condom. Which I would have done anyway. To be blunt, I wanted to have sex with her. She wanted to have sex with me. An easily avoidable STD was not going to get in the way of me getting some action. No sir.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:45 PM on March 4, 2013


Dekathelon, did you notice in that Askme you linked to that nearly all the other answers were from people who were telling the guy that this was not as big a deal as he was thinking?

I'm going to second the people who are suggesting therapy, because it sounds like you are so focused on looking for a potential bad outcome it's like you subconsciously want to be rejected for this. And that's...a bit unusual. I'd definitely talk to a therapist about this and figure out what's really going on.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:46 PM on March 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


dekathelon: "(Example of a guy who's considering dumping a girl over this; a LOT of the answers are along the lines of "dude don't stick your dick in disease." And that's even taking into account the people using a site like this are probably more liberal/openminded than the general population of guys.)"

You might want to reread that question: it was a question from a girl, who stated explicitly that she 'absolutely did not want to get it'. The answers she got were addressing that. I think that's quite a different question from yours.
posted by Ms. Next at 1:47 PM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Example of a guy who's considering dumping a girl over this

That Askme thread is about a woman dating a woman. There's fourteen comments and two of them say words to the effect of to be 100% safe and not get HPV, don't date her. Two is not a lot.

This thing you keep doing to yourself, the looking for the shittiest possible angle to make yourself feel bad, please stop for your own sake.
posted by jamaro at 1:47 PM on March 4, 2013 [17 favorites]


Go looking for it and you will find the ugliest of people on the internets.

Not worth your time. They are the same people who believe that it wasn't really rape and 145 lbs is super-death-fat no matter your height. They are everywhere, even here on MeFi (though they're rare as far as I can tell).

I'm concerned about you searching for people who say, "Ew, gross, don't stick your dick into disease." You are dragging yourself into a shame spiral. Stop it. Stop googling, stop catastrophising. Put the HPV in a box at the top of your closet until Thursday. Until then, call a therapist and let them read this.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:48 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not all answers are created equal. Some said things like "I know a lot of people for whom this is a dealbreaker," so those cancel out more than one answer. The OP counts as one too since she "absolutely doesn't want to get it," which I assume is not an uncommon stance. And questions like this tend to bring out the happy groupthinky crowd anyway; people who really would dump someone are less likely to reply.

As for therapy, I'm unemployed; I can't afford it. I stopped going because there was literally no money left in the budget for things like that. I don't even know how I'm going to afford the treatment for this, but that's a separate issue.
posted by dekathelon at 1:49 PM on March 4, 2013


And, like, am I supposed to go back and get in contact with everyone I've been with who's faded on me, who I haven't spoken to in months by their decision, and tell them this?

There's no HPV test in regular medical use for men (that I know of) so assuming all these people are men, this would be utterly useless. So, no.

The strains of the virus that cause warts are different from the strains of virus that cause cervical cancer. So, your PAP results have nothing to do with having warts.

You are not unclean and you are not a slut. Have you ever had chickenpox, a herpesvirus? That one's hanging out in all our bodies too, have you ever felt unclean because of that? I agree with you that people can be nasty and terrible, that's definitely true.

Just remember that it's only some people because that's true too. Just remember a lot of the people who are the biggest assholes have had viruses that they just don't know about because there is no test for them.

One way to move forward is to date people who are good to you and who have shown themselves to be non-judgmental and trustworthy before you make yourself vulnerable to them. I know that this is easier said than done. I just think it's so common to have people treat you horribly when you don't really know each other that well and you haven't had the chance to see what kind of person they are.
posted by cairdeas at 1:49 PM on March 4, 2013


I know it's incredibly common, like I said, but I also know that it is not so common for girls to tell guys - I have never heard of it happening - enough that it is probably going to seem like a freak occurrence.

I can count on one hand the number of people who have confided in me that they have HPV. I know more people than that so based on the statistics in this thread, many people I know either don't know or didn't tell me. This isn't a cocktail party conversation topic or even intimate gathering of friends conversation topic. People don't tend to discuss their genitals with one another unless there's a reason to do so, and even then, they're not doing it in a group setting.

Of the ones who did? Absolutely none of them ever told me about how and when they told the people they were sleeping with. Seriously, I can't imagine how the topic comes up in conversation outside of "hey, I need to tell someone, how did you do it?"
posted by griphus at 1:51 PM on March 4, 2013


[Asker, this needs to not turn into an argument with answerers or a referendum on someone else's previous askme. Please keep it to necessary updates/clarifications.]
posted by cortex at 1:53 PM on March 4, 2013


Not all answers are created equal. Some said things like "I know a lot of people for whom this is a dealbreaker," so those cancel out more than one answer.

OP, you are actively looking for reasons that this is a bigger deal than it is. That is a HUGE red flag that there is more going on here than just, "I have an STD, what do I do?" Please, when you go back to the clinic, consider saying, "This news really disturbed me and made me realize I don't have as good a handle on my feelings about sex and relationships as I thought I did. Do you know anyone I can talk to, preferably for free or at a low cost?" Even if you just sit down and have a chat with a health clinic counselor about this for five minutes, I think you will feel better.
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:55 PM on March 4, 2013 [39 favorites]


Just out of curiosity, what do you want the answer to this question to be? Because the answers you've gotten so far almost all comprise one or more of the following:
  1. You may not have HPV or any other STI, so you should try to remain calm about the situation until you know what's up.
  2. HPV is not a big deal because a lot of people have it and it often goes away, and it doesn't mean that you're dirty or slutty or anything else negative.
  3. Most guys won't care.
  4. A guy you're dating might care, but if he's mean to you about it, he's not someone you wanted to be dating anyway.
  5. This is a tough issue, but if you do have an STI, you need to be brave and have conversations with people about your status before becoming intimate with them, and here are some thoughts on how to do that.
  6. Lots of people, including [me or people I know] are having these conversations, whether you've heard about them or not, and here are some ways we do that.
I can't think of a whole lot of other possible answers to this question. Are you expecting to hear "Yes, you are dirty and whorish and should be ashamed of yourself"? Because no kind person who wants to help you is going to say that, because in addition to being false, it's a mean thing to say, and it's just as mean when you say it about yourself. Are you wanting your worst fears validated, such as "You should commence preparations for a lifetime of celibacy and crying"? Because all available evidence suggests that it is not true, and lots of people with STIs find love and are happy in their dating lives. Do you want to hear "You should keep this a deep dark secret and never tell anyone, even if you sleep with them"? Because no one is going to tell you that because it would be unethical.

Is there any answer that we could give you that wouldn't result in you saying, "Yes but I am unclean and slutty and no one else has this problem and I'm going to be alone forever, and here is evidence to back that up"? Because if there is no answer that will dissuade you from that point of view, I think it's probably not useful for us (or you) to continue discussing it here. But if you can think of something that would make you feel better, something that would convince you that your life is not over, please tell us what that might be so that we can help you to believe that it's true.
posted by decathecting at 1:56 PM on March 4, 2013 [21 favorites]


Whoa. HPV is like, the smallest deal ever. Most people don't ever get tested for HPV, it is so not a big deal.

Plus, it can clear from your system over time, so this will not be a permanent albatross around your neck, keep that in mind. When you talk about this with guys, which, yeah, is probably a good idea, don't talk about it like a death sentence! They will take it much better if you say "Oh, hey, by the way, I had a weird pap last year so I probably still have Human Papilloma Virus. It's not a big deal, most sexually active adults get it at least once, and it really doesn't usually affect men anyway. I just wanted to let you know." This kind of informed, non-freaked-out way of talking about your HPV will make the conversation go much better than if you lead with the post title.

Also, have you ever been to www.scarleteen.com? It's a really useful sexual health site, and not just for teens. (I'm 26, and have found it really interesting.) Maybe take a look at their HPV info.
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:56 PM on March 4, 2013


The societal stigma is there

Partially true, but lessening every day (as virtually every answer in this thread attests).

and now there is a pretty good chance of someone otherwise perfect for me deciding to dump me because he doesn't want the risk.

False. You have absolutely no idea whether or not there "is a pretty good chance" of this happening at all, and just because you've tacked a false statement on to the end of a partially true statement does not then transform the false statement into a true one. You might fear that this is the case (and I totally understand that fear), but the FEAR of something NEVER automatically makes it a FACT.

This is the essence of catastrophic thinking, and it has nothing to do with your HPV status; it has to do with your brain telling you things that aren't true due to depression, anxiety, and poor self-esteem. You do this in virtually every thread, and I suspect you do this virtually non-stop in your own head, and it is making you miserable. This is why so many answers to so many of your questions end with some version of people urging you to seek therapy.

I wish you well. Catastrophic thinking CAN be undone and with things like therapy and mindfulness, which can help you rewrite/rewire the messages you play in your brain to yourself.
posted by scody at 2:01 PM on March 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't think an abnormal PAP smear necessarily means that you have HPV.

I don't have an STD - that I know about - but I had a false diagnosis of one a while ago, and I told the guy that I was dating, and it wasn't a big deal. And I have friends that date with herpes. The only STD that most people I know would consider a dealbreaker is HIV.

Moreover, the strains that cause cervical cancer are not the same strains the cause warts. The kind of HPV that you have has essentially zero effect on men. There is no HPV test for men. The only issue is that a man can become a carrier of HPV, but, as everyone upthread has already mentioned, most of the dudes that you've slept with already are carriers.

I think Metafilter is kind of a mixed bag re: STD advice. There's a lot of "I married my first boyfriend and I am so glad I don't have an STD/I am a good person so I don't have STDs/I have OCD and bleach my condoms" moralizing BS that I think it's worth seeking out other sources of sex-positive advice.

Basically, I am not the sort of person who can afford any more strikes against her, and yet here I am and I'm miserable. The whole thing makes me feel even worse because if someone had just decided to stay with me instead of making me keep dating around then this might not have happened.

I wish there was a way to splash cold water in someone's face via the internet. Don't use this really, really minor thing as an excuse to throw a pity party for yourself. No one made you keep dating, for fuck's sake.

I have two good friends who have had multiple abnormal pap smears. They both date a lot. One is living with her boyfriend. I would not describe either as beauty queens, but they are both pleasant people to be around. They are both really scared about eventually getting cervical cancer. They don't, as far as I know, consider themselves tainted goods.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:02 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's the saving grace.

Yes, some people will care. No, some people will not. The question is "are you currently contagious?" that's what you and your partners need to know. So then you can say, I got diagnosed with HPV a few weeks ago, at first I was really panicked, but then I learned that 75% of sexually active people have it at some time in their lives.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:06 PM on March 4, 2013


As far as I know the main reason people care about HPV is that immunising against it is a useful vaccine against some types of cervical cancer. Really. Don't worry about it, and don't feel you need to tell boys.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:06 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you can't afford therapy, please find a support group. You really need to hear some sympathetic folks saying nice and understanding things to your face, regularly. There are all kinds of different support groups for all different kinds of things. You don't need to fit into some kind of extreme box to be welcomed.
posted by cairdeas at 2:07 PM on March 4, 2013


You do this in virtually every thread, and I suspect you do this virtually non-stop in your own head, and it is making you miserable. This is why so many answers to so many of your questions ends with some version of people urging you to seek therapy.

I was just coming in to say something along these lines.

HPV isn't a huge deal and it's not going to ruin your dating/sex life, but no one here can help you until you start addressing your tendency towards self-shaming and distorted negative thinking. You've gotten some really good advice in previous threads and I hope you start taking it.
posted by lalex at 2:07 PM on March 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


You're not a slut.

I don't know how other guys handle relationships, but personally, I've found it's very rare for me to fall in love. That means that on the occasions when I do, I'm not willing to declare every petty thing a dealbreaker - only stuff that is unmanageable with treatment. Anybody who eliminates 75% of the population (the estimated number of people who have an STD of one sort or another) as potential partners has made their odds of finding love exceptionally remote. That's just math and common sense.

I would say, don't tell him until you trust him to behave maturely about it. It should go without saying that you shouldn't sleep with him until that point either.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:07 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I had the kind of HPV that gives you visible warts and not just an abnormal pap smear. I had an active case of it for about five years before it finally calmed down and went away. I always had That Conversation About It with people I was about to sleep with -- I had no choice; they were gonna see the warts anyway.

Well, I had That Conversation with six people in the course of the half-decade in question, and I went on to happy sexy fun times with all six of them. Not one of them rejected me over it. Two were like "Okay, then we'll use a condom, no big deal." One said "Okay, let's just use our hands" and stuck with that decision. Three said "Okay, let's just use our hands" and then a few weeks later said "You know, I thought about it and it's really not such a big deal, I think we should go ahead and have sex." I eventually married the last of those three.

That Conversation is no fun, and I'm sorry you're gonna be having it with people. It's awkward and embarrassing and frustrating. And it does mean you can't have totally casual drunken hookup sex -- any time you want to fool around with someone, you have to have a sober fully-clothed sitting-down conversation. But when you get done with the fully-clothed sitting-down conversation part and get on to the taking-off-clothing part, it's still plenty of fun.

I guess I might hang out in unusually liberal/educated/socially-conscious/sex-positive circles. But.... well, so there's my advice for you. That's your dating pool. Go for well-educated sex-positive guys. (They're better in bed anyway!)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 2:08 PM on March 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also, false positives happen. My brother once got a false positive for HIV - good times!

As for dealing with a partner, when a friend started seeing someone several years ago, they went to Planned Parenthood together to get themselves checked out. They found out that they both had a different incredibly common viral infection. They got married a few years ago and are still happily together.

If you want to believe that this is The Worst Thing Ever and you are a Bad Person, I can't stop you from believing that. But I can and do disagree with you.
posted by kat518 at 2:10 PM on March 4, 2013



Basically, I am not the sort of person who can afford any more strikes against her, and yet here I am and I'm miserable. The whole thing makes me feel even worse because if someone had just decided to stay with me instead of making me keep dating around then this might not have happened.


WOAH. Hold the phone, girl! It's fine to be scared and upset about having an abnormal pap smear, but this right here is just not a productive or healthy way of thinking AT ALL. From the tone of this and other posts, it seems like you internalize events that happen in your life as tragedies and injustices that have been inflicted upon you and have tainted you permanently and no one will ever reach down far enough into your pit of gloom and give you a chance. Since you cannot afford to seek therapy, let me just say this: STOP THINKING THAT WAY. Just stop it. I know, I know, you can't, but every time a thought like this creeps into your head, something that goes along the lines of, "I'm a slut and unclean and see, I'm going to die alone, just like I knew all along!" Tell yourself that your thought process is fucked up, not accurate, and you shouldn't believe it. NONE of the perceived consequences of having HPV that you've listed really make any sense from my perspective. And if someone doesn't want to be with you because of HPV, tell him not let the door hit him in the dick on the way out.
posted by thank you silence at 2:13 PM on March 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, so, I checked out your posting history because something in the tone of this post sounded really familiar....Hi there dekathlon.

So once again, you've decided that a very commonplace situation (75% of all people is pretty goddamn commonplace) is DOOM (but only for you, not for anyone else because reasons), and that the entirety of social structure and humanity is conspiring to make sure you never wring an ounce of joy out of your time breathing on earth.

And you've come here again to do this weird dance where you use our goodwill as a community as a whetstone against which to sharpen your knife of self-hatred.

I'll keep saying it, even though you will give me 5000 reasons not to listen:

Get a doc. Get a therapist. Stop skulking the internet looking to get the emotional shit beat out of yourself. Start taking control of your life.
posted by like_a_friend at 2:15 PM on March 4, 2013 [48 favorites]


And to head off the thoughts I know you're having - There are therapists who work with people on sliding scales, so that you can afford them. So you do not have to let your low income stand in the way.

Note that choice of words I used there - you do not have to let this stand in the way. Because all those things that you're thinking are bad luck and are just things that the outside world has thrust upon you? You have 100% of the power to stop them from being obstacles for you.

Really. You do. You really really do. You just have to use that power.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:19 PM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


As for therapy, I'm unemployed; I can't afford it. I stopped going because there was literally no money left in the budget for things like that. I don't even know how I'm going to afford the treatment for this, but that's a separate issue.

How to Find Mental Health Care When Money Is Tight

Mental health organizations in New York (search for "free" or "sliding scale")

Free & Low Cost Health Resources in New York City

Really, truly cheap therapy in Brooklyn

(this is based on the assumption that you're still in New York)
posted by scody at 2:23 PM on March 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


So once again, you've decided that a very commonplace situation (75% of all people is pretty goddamn commonplace) is DOOM (but only for you, not for anyone else because reasons), and that the entirety of social structure and humanity is conspiring to make sure you never wring an ounce of joy out of your time breathing on earth.

And you've come here again to do this weird dance where you use our goodwill as a community as a whetstone against which to sharpen your knife of self-hatred.

Spot on.

Dekathalon, I don't know you. I don't care if you get therapy. I don't get emotionally invested in metafilter. I've flagged several of the comments that only tell you to get therapy, because answering the question is the point of AskMe and I hate derails.

From one stranger to another: HPV is not a big deal. YOU are making it into a bigger deal than it ought to be. Consider this a challenge to be an adult and take life in stride.

I'm not overly concerned about the health risks because there is enough family history of uterine/cervical cancer that I've basically always just figured I'm going to get it sooner or later, like diabetes.

This is what you should be worried about, and good for you for taking care of your health and getting regular pap smears. Keep it up. Cancer sucks.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:27 PM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Nthing not that huge of a deal. It may require some care, but anybody who bails over something thats honestly pretty minor is a bit of a jerk and shouldn't be dating you. You deserve better.


As for therapy: Search for somebody. A TON of therapists use 'sliding scale fees' where, basically, you pay what you can. Some places will, in fact, see you for free. Also consider churches and other social groups. Maybe even Planned Parenthood will help?

If you live in Texas (Dallas, Houston, or Galveston) or Atlanta, I know of a good group.
posted by Jacen at 2:30 PM on March 4, 2013


Hi Dekathlon, I know plenty of other people have given you the stats on this (no positive test yet, plenty of people do test positive, most people clear the infection in two years even without the vaccine, HPV has a ton of variants and only a few of them give you warts/cancer) but I wanted to share my personal experience with HPV in the hopes that it'd offer you some comfort.

I'm not sure what your definition of unclean slut is, but I'm pretty sure I would have fit it a few years ago. I had several abnormal paps, pre-cancerous cells, and two positive HPV tests in a row, and like you, I had spaced my sexual partners such that I could not really pin down who might be a transmission vector. (Others are correct that there is no test for HPV in males, so kind of a moot point from a data perspective anyway) A couple of years after that, I went back with gritted teeth for a gyno appointment with a new doctor, explained my history, vented a bit about being the kind of woman who ends up with the cancer virus despite getting Gardasil, only to have the gyno tell me "what? everything is fine, I'm going to order another HPV test but I bet it's negative. Most people clear this infection in a couple of years." She was right--my HPV test came back negative, as did every test after that.

A couple years later, I was dating a new guy when he mentioned that he'd had to visit the doctor for some funny looking stuff on his junk that predated our relationship. He got points for his honesty and we had a kind of awkward chat about our sexual histories and whatnot, and I told him that I'd had HPV and cleared it, and he told me his doc said he probably had it (especially in light of his sexual history) but that it wasn't a big deal, which I agreed with. That relationship turned out to be incredibly successful, and it's likely that that success was due in part to us having to have a chat about our sexual health and histories early on.

i'm hoping you take from this the message I'm intending, which is that when people tell you that HPV is not a deal breaker, some of them really truly mean it.
posted by House of Leaves of Grass at 2:37 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


When it comes to health outcomes, or pretty much anything else in life, you only have two options:

1. Handle it gracefully and with tact.
2. Do something other than that.

You can choose between those two outcomes pretty much every second of your day, and if you choose the latter you can always still go back to the former. People get handed much worse diagnoses and still manage to not go full drama town pity central end of the world celibate apocalypse over it.

The script, to be had when it is obvious you are going to take your clothes off:
You: Hey, I am super excited to do THINGS with/to you. Let's use condoms because I know I've been exposed to HPV.
Dude/Earthlings in general: KTHX GREAT SEXY TIMES AHOY.
posted by skrozidile at 2:41 PM on March 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I know plenty of people have said it, but again:

Abnormal paps don't necessarily mean you have HPV.
posted by gaspode at 2:47 PM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


After some consideration, because I did not address your actual question in my comment.

Please understand, the reason some people in this thread are reacting the way they are is that you just called a bunch of us unclean sluts by extension, and people don't really like that, it's rather rude.

It's like you came on here and said "I've just been diagnosed as a possible brunette person. I WILL NEVER FIND LOVE."

Most sex partners you encounter? Probably brunettes--it's the most common hair color.

Is there a chance you can change your brunette-being status? Absolutely.

Is there a chance you might meet someone who's hot and great but it turns out he doesn't like brunettes? Almost inevitably.

Is any of this remotely equivalent to the end of all good things? Nope.

In a lot of your questions, and this one is no exception, you seem to conclude (erroneously) that the possible rejection by any given thing (romantic partner, friend, job) equals a definite rejection by all things. But all things and all people are not the same. And you can't control ANY OF THEM. You can only control yourself.

Might some dude someday say "no thanks" because you have HPV? Yeah, that's a possible thing. But how many dudes in your life have said "no thanks" before this? And somehow you're still alive and going about your day. You're not going to miss out on The One-- because nobody who'd be a dick about HPV is "The One" for anyone. You're going to miss out on a small handful of not-the-ones, and what's so bad about that?
posted by like_a_friend at 2:55 PM on March 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


and don't feel you need to tell boys. I beg to differ

HPV is transmitted even with the use of condoms, it is transmitted skin to skin and that means contact areas not covered by rubber can spread the virus to your partner. Obviously the risk is lower than with unprotected sex. You should still tell your potential partners as they might contract it and possibly infect someone else. If it putting on a condom made it 100% safe, I'd say don't tell but this is different. You have to let them know what they are exposing themselves to.

Although a significant amount of the population carries the virus, there are several types and different infections. Someone who has the wart causing type may or may not also carry the abnormal PAP causing one. So even if someone already has it he could contract yours.
When cervical cancer is developed by HPV infection it is over a lengthy period of time (like decades) in the majority of cases. It is detected very early and treated successfully. So those abnormal cells really are not much to worry about. They can be frozen or burnt off in simple procedures depending on the type of lesions. You should ask your doctor about this they will explain it in detail.

As for the shame part, well it is something to work through. This dosen't make you a slut or unclean or anything like that, please quit blaming yourself for this or feeling guilty. It won't change anything and you might as well have caught it from the first guy you were ever with. Unless you are virgin you can contract it. Understandably, not being free of sexually transmitted diseases anymore and not knowing when it will clear is a party pooper. In the meantime this is likely to change your dating habits and you need to find ways to be comfortable dating with HPV or wait for it to clear. Some people will and some people wont, but allow them to make their own decision about that. IMO that dosen't change your dating potential much, I wouldn't really worry about all of that. Much scarier than harmful.
posted by proximacentauri at 3:01 PM on March 4, 2013


I guess what nobody has addressed (and this is a 100% necessary clarification because people keep misinterpreting the OP) is the reality of it. Guys will not think less of me for being brunette - well, OK, they do sometimes in my experience, gentlemen prefer blondes, etc., but being brunette is certainly nothing like the stigma that STDs have.

Like, they teach you that STDs are awful, disgusting things that only irresponsible, promiscuous people get, and that using a condom will probably protect you (but you should avoid the promiscuous people and be monogamous anyway), but condoms don't protect you at all, and being monogamous is something that is a privilege not everyone gets. Everyone I have slept with is someone I thought I could be in a long-term relationship with, and then they dump me. Like, literally last Saturday I slept with a guy I'd gone on a couple dates with and liked a lot and enjoyed my time with and could see myself in a relationship with, then the morning after he was really distant and then he dumped me and now my number is that much higher and my risk that much more and if I'd had only known I never would have done it.

The same goes for whoever it was that did this to me, a million times over. Basically it makes sex and dating a dice roll with terrible odds where the societal perception - because no matter how many CDC documents are out there, pop culture is stronger - is that you are a slut and untouchable if you lose that roll, and it penalizes people who are unsuccessful in dating and gives them yet another strike against them that they don't need. It's not fair at all and I hate it, but it doesn't mean the stigma isn't real.
posted by dekathelon at 3:09 PM on March 4, 2013


I guess what nobody has addressed (and this is a 100% necessary clarification because people keep misinterpreting the OP) is the reality of it.

Everyone is addressing the reality of it. The fact that what people are saying contradicts your internal monologue does not make what they are saying less true.
posted by scody at 3:12 PM on March 4, 2013 [27 favorites]


If you feel devalued after sleeping with someone who fades out on you - and I do - then don't sleep with them right away! This is not slut shaming. I have very recently decided that I won't sleep with someone until we are monogamous, exclusive, and have had some sort of define the relationship talk. I have nothing against casual sex, but at this point in my life, it's not for me. If you wear your heart on your sleeve, don't sleep with someone after a few dates.

And you know what? Life isn't fair. Sorry, sweetheart.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:16 PM on March 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


[dekathelon, please stop threadsitting. We will delete further comments from you that are not simple answers to questions. Period.]
posted by jessamyn at 3:17 PM on March 4, 2013


So, I'll address it. So what if you are "a slut"? No, really. So the fuck what?

Lemme tell you-- I've slept with more men and women than I can remember, definitely over two dozen. Lots of people would say that makes me slutty. But guess what! I'm married to an awesome guy, I have a cool career, and I like my life.

So, like, getting the "slut" label isn't really as awful as you seem to think it will be. There will still be awesome, smart, safe, healthy people who want to be with you, who want to stick their dick in you, who want to kiss you and love you and hang out with you, because they know that the number of people you sleep with is just a number, and that you could have easily gotten any number of awful STDs even if you had only ever slept with one person in your life.

Testing positive for HPV is not a curse. Being a slut is not a curse.
posted by joan_holloway at 3:19 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"They" teach you a lot of things. A lot of them are crap and I wouldn't want to be with someone who doesn't get that.

There are all sorts of stigma(s?) out there. My best friend is a single mom - she has to deal with the stigma related to that. Similar to an STI, it's not something you can see about her when you meet her unless she has her kid with her. Nearly every nasty think you could say about a person with an STI could be said about a single mom.

The thing is, having a kid isn't a strike against her. Her kid is amazing and being okay with dating a single mom is just another criteria that gets added to the list of criteria she already has mentally for future partners. And these are her criteria for her partners, not their criteria for her. If you're not interested in her because of her kid, she is not interested in you. Period. Not because it says something about their flexibility or tolerance or anything. Her kid is not a hypothetical and as a result, my friend is straight-up not interested in dating someone who can't handle her kid. If you don't want her kid in your life, you don't want her in your life.

While I can't believe that I'm comparing have an STI to having a kid, my point is that everyone has something, whether it's crazy family members, a genetic issue, student loans, being on anti-depressants, or anything else. If you actually have HPV, it's just another thing you have. It's not the end of the world. At some point in a relationship, everyone should talk abut their stuff. It's not fun usually but that's part of the price of admission for being in a relationship. If you don't want to pay, you can't ride. Maybe it's not fair but that doesn't matter. The thing that makes it more fair is that everyone has something. Nobody's perfect. You (might) have HPV. What does this guy have? Is that something you want to deal with? Because you get to make that choice too.
posted by kat518 at 3:25 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess what nobody has addressed (and this is a 100% necessary clarification because people keep misinterpreting the OP) is the reality of it.

Again, I ask, what is it that you want to hear? What is it that you are hoping we will say about "the reality of it"? Because lots of people are telling you about their reality, how they've experienced situations like this, or how people they know have experienced situations like this, and how those situations have played out in the real world. They're telling you the facts about reality as they understand it, based on their own experiences. And none of those facts, none of that "reality" seems to be making you feel better or changing your mind about anything or helping you to figure out what to do next. So, what is it that you want? Do you want us to continue to try to convince you that your life is not ruined? Do you want sympathy? Do you want concrete advice about what to do next? Do you want more of us to tell you that you're not a bad person? What do you want to get out of this AskMe?

(I'm hoping that because I've asked a direct question to which you can provide a direct answer, you'll respond and be able to give us some guidance on how to help you. Because it doesn't appear that we're doing any good right now, given that each comment you've made seems to be more assertions about how your life is ruined without any indication that what we're saying is helping at all. And that's all we want: to help you. Please let us know what you'd like us to do to help.)
posted by decathecting at 3:25 PM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dekathelon, everyone here is telling you about their perceptions of HPV (which obviously do not match "the reality" of which you speak), and A LOT of people here have spoken of their own experiences on the dating market when HPV positive. And everyone here, no matter our individual experiences, agree that HPV is very, very common, because, hey! There are statistics!

You've retorted by saying that a lot of people aren't so informed about STDs, and will think that if you DO have HPV (which is not yet clear), you're a dirty, unclean person. Um -- why would you want to date someone so uneducated? Raise your standards, girl! Bonus: men who educate themselves about all the various aspects of sex (including sexual health) are usually better lovers. WIN ALL AROUND!

Finally, your latest update leads me to think that maybe you should step back from sleeping with people for a while. Your talk about your number going up is very strange to me -- it's a strange and regressive way to think, IMO, and suggests that you're not comfortable with your own sexual choices. Look, if you often find yourself regretting having slept with a guy once it turns out that he didn't want a committed relationship, don't sleep with anyone before you two have established that you want a committed relationship. Voila! That problem will be solved.
posted by artemisia at 3:29 PM on March 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Reiterating what others have said - at 18, way before I was sexually active at all, I had an abnormal pap smear and a follow-up colposcopy which came out completely normal. Abnormal pap does not equal HPV or in fact any STD, and can indicate any number of things including inflammation or simply abnormal cells that are there by chance or because something odd happened in the lab.

Others have given great advice here regarding the reality of HPV, and I don't really have anything else that anyone hasn't said to add to that part of the discussion. Just know that an abnormal pap smear is not the same as an STD diagnosis.
posted by augustimagination at 3:37 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Side note: I'm not a guy but I think that if I was a guy and someone I was seeing told me that they might have HPV, I would not think it was a big deal.

However, if they told me that they had an incredibly common STI that frequently goes away on its own while visibly freaking out and acting like it's the end of the world, I would think it was a big deal, either because my partner is going to die tomorrow or because she is a crazy person.
posted by kat518 at 3:43 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anon:
I'm the author of the thread (http://ask.metafilter.com/234403/HPV-Do-I-stay-or-go) about female/female HPV.

I ended up continuing to see this person, and two months later we're still doing fine. We're practicing safe sex and as far as I know I haven't contracted anything. So even if someone you tell absolutely freaks the fuck out, it doesn't necessarily mean they'll stop seeing you over it. You're not doomed to be a pariah.

As for when to tell them: after we'd seen each other a few times but before things got sexual was enough notice for me.
posted by jessamyn at 3:53 PM on March 4, 2013 [24 favorites]


Regarding how to deal with the social stigma: do not talk to your friends/partners/etc about this sort of thing in the same way that you're doing here with us right now. Seriously. Like everyone has been saying, 75% of the population has had HPV, so chances are that the person you're speaking to will likely have had it too - and they won't appreciate being called a "unclean, dirty slut" as you're implying that anyone with HPV does. In other words - it isn't as much as it is social stigma as it will be people raising their eyebrows and going "okay, I'm insulted here, time to not associate with this person." Approach the conversations normally from the perspectives that everyone else here is advocating, and you'll find that there will be little social judgment passed.
posted by Conspire at 4:21 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd like to share how I cope with stress of the unknown. The unknown can suck (as you well know) because it can be the gateway to endless amounts of what ifs, OMGs, panic, and despair. So, in an effort to avoid falling into that, I write a list of answers about what I know and what I can control, reduced to their simplest and most immediate form. The questions I ask myself are always the same set of questions, no matter what the situation might be. Apologies for the length and redundancies but I have the distinct impression that coping skills need to be spelled out in detail here.

The questions:
a) What do I know?
b) How do I feel?
c) What is my goal?
d) What can I do?
e) When will be the next time I learn/do something concrete about this situation?

Again, now using the situation you've laid out in your post:
a) What do I know? I had an abnormal Pap test result
b) How do I feel? This frightens me
c) What is my goal? To be healthy and not frightened
d) What can I do? I will go to a followup appointment
e) When will be the next time I learn/do something concrete about this situation? Thursday morning

Question (e) is key: it tells you that there is absolutely NOTHING more you can do until that day. No amount of fretting, arguing or bargaining is going to change anything so you might as well can the stress until you know more. Do something symbolic if it helps, such as writing out a pledge to yourself to not dwell on it and sealing that in a box until you know more. Hug a puppy (in other words, distract yourself).

Note that HPV isn't on the list above. It will not be on this list at the very earliest on Thursday and may not make it on the list at all. Q&A yourself only one level at a time (I'll do one more level as an example but I only do one at a time for myself), and each time you learn something new, update your answers. On Thursday or whenever the next set of test results come back, your next set of Q&A will look like this:

Possibility 1:
a) What do I know? My second set of test results came back fine
b) How do I feel? Whew!
c) What is my goal? To not feel like that again
d) What can I do? I will make an appointment to get the HPV vaccine
e) When will be the next time I learn/do something concrete about this situation? I will make an appointment for the vaccination today

Possibility 2:
a) What do I know? My second set of test results came back abnormal
b) How do I feel? I'm even more scared
c) What is my goal? I need information about my treatment options to support me both physically and mentally
d) What can I do? I can ask my doctor what he or she recommends
e) When will be the next time I learn/do something concrete about this situation? (This is up to you now, dekathelon).
posted by jamaro at 4:36 PM on March 4, 2013 [74 favorites]


[Hi folks! Difficult thread. Maybe you could 1. keep your comments helpful and not casting aspersions on whole groups of people 2. moving on once you've flagged? Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 4:39 PM on March 4, 2013


jamaro's list of 5 questions is absolutely fantastic -- definitely a tactic I would strongly encourage you to try, dekathalon. You might consider some of the resources being discussed in this thread, as well.
posted by scody at 4:52 PM on March 4, 2013


Hey Zeus....

Little late to the game, but I wanted to echo the other commenter’s here...

Most of the population HAS/HAD HPV, including the males who are simply asymptomatic till the butt cancer sets in (cancer of the sphincter and other joins in the skin)...

No reason to stigmatize yourself, it's an awesome filter for finding intelligent educated and non-judgemental friends.

Keep your immune system happy, bout all you can do.
posted by anthroprose at 5:06 PM on March 4, 2013


You're catastrophizing, which is a symptom of greater problems. As many others have suggested in your previous threads, I believe you are severely depressed and possibly suffering from anxiety as well. Your certainty that having HPV means you're "unclean" and a "slut" and forever undeserving of love and happiness is not an accurate reflection of reality.

Everyone I have slept with is someone I thought I could be in a long-term relationship with, and then they dump me. Like, literally last Saturday I slept with a guy I'd gone on a couple dates with and liked a lot and enjoyed my time with and could see myself in a relationship with, then the morning after he was really distant and then he dumped me and now my number is that much higher and my risk that much more and if I'd had only known I never would have done it.

HPV is not a big deal at all. You know what sucks and is not even as common as HPV? Cold sores! Hooray, I get painful, bright red, oozing herpes on my face! To date, only one person has ever made me feel bad about having this, and it was a germaphobic woman I worked with. Most people will contract a strain or two of HPV at least once in their life, and many people, especially men, never show symptoms before the virus clears out of their system. HPV is on the low, loooooow end of the stigma scale, to the point where it hardly even rates. I thought I had HPV at one point and my boyfriend (now husband) barely reacted, except to tell me to quit googling for medical advice and consult an actual doctor.

But this is not really 100% about the HPV, is it? I have the feeling you're actually bent on punishing yourself because you've had little success with sex and dating, and recently you opened your heart and body to yet another man who soon dumped you. So now you feel like crap, which is totally understandable, but not necessary. We're telling you that all this angst is not necessary, you don't deserve to feel dirty because you might have HPV, nor do you deserve to feel like a slut because you slept with a guy who wasn't committed to you. You're not a slut, nor is any other woman who chooses to be sexually active. An educated, not-a-dickwad man will be understanding that this is an unbelievably widespread virus that any sexually active person could contract easily, and will not judge you for having a sexual history that predates him.

You seem to simultaneously think the absolute worst of everyone around you, while assuming that they will think the absolute worst of you. This is something I really hope you'll explore with a therapist, and not the one you wrote about in your last thread.
posted by keep it under cover at 5:24 PM on March 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


Hey, you do know that you don't have to actually tell a partner how many other people you have slept with, right? I mean, it's not tattooed on your face or anything. You are of course morally obligated to share your potential STI status with a partner if you believe you may have or may have been exposed to an illness that you could potentially transmit to someone else. But you don't have to say anything else about your past sex life unless you want to. As in, if you WANT to say, "I've found that I really prefer it when men do THIS," you can and should, but you're under no obligation to say just how many men you tried that move out with before.

As you get older, and (hopefully) start dating wiser people, you'll find that many partners won't even ask how many people you have had sex with because they know the specific number is not pertinent to your current relationship.

I've been in a relationship with my husband for nearly a decade and as it happens he has never once asked me how many people I had sex with before I met him, and I have not asked him, either. I suppose I could find out his "number" right now if I asked him, but I don't really see the point.
posted by BlueJae at 7:01 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's going to ruin any chance of a relationship is not HPV, it's your self-loathing.

I say this with the kindest possible intent, because I've been there: get a grip. You really, really need some professional help here. It's not a 'nice-to-have', or a 'when I can afford it': at this point, it's a necessity.

Decent, kind people do not judge you for testing positive for HPV. But any decent, kind person with his shit together is going to RUN a million miles from you if you come across to him the way you come across here, because partners who hate themselves are exhausting.

When I met my ex-BF, he had genital herpes (I tested 100% negative for STDs). I went on to have a 2-year-relationship with him. I eventually left him because I could not live with his untreated depression and relentless self-flagellation. His STD status had nothing to do with it.

Stop running and hiding from yourself, and sort this out. I can totally empathize with your financial situation; I just spent 5 months on a waiting list to get into a government-funded mental health program. It was bloody hard, but at least I knew I'd set the wheels in motion.

I wish you all the best, I really do. Please listen to the answers in this thread, and see your issue for what it really is.
posted by Salamander at 7:14 PM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Salamander: " I say this with the kindest possible intent, because I've been there: get a grip. You really, really need some professional help here. It's not a 'nice-to-have', or a 'when I can afford it': at this point, it's a necessity. "

I think Salamander is right. The self-hate in what you write is palpable (and painful). Getting help is not a luxury for you at this point.

If you truly, truly cannot carve out $20-40 a week (or whatever sliding scale in your area is), please spend $12 (currently on sale for $9) and get the book (Regardless of What You Were Taught to Believe) There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by Zen teacher Cheri Huber.

I recommend Cheri's work a lot because it has helped me go from being suicidally depressed (I once put all the medication in the apartment into a large Ziploc and gave it to my husband, saying "put this somewhere I can't find it, because I'm afraid of what I'll do if I get my hands on it in a down moment") to being overall functional and often even happy. And although usually I try to follow her lead in not giving advice (she considers it fundamentally disrespectful, because everybody is inherently adequate to their own experience), you seem to be hurting so badly, and looking at life through such a dark filter, that it seems worth holding out a hand and saying "This helped me stop suffering and hating myself, and I hope you'll consider it."
posted by Lexica at 8:01 PM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Honestly, the fact that you are unemployed is way more of a problem for many people, far more then this diagnosis. And I say that as someone who is unemployed, so I don't mean it as an attack, it's our reality. There's a lot of judgement and shows up when this is mentioned, tons of jerkfaces in the world. I can see how thinking you have an STD is one more straw on your back, like things needed to be even worse in the dating department, right?

I've got some anxiety and depression as well, and I'm in therapy. It's been such a help. Due to finances I asked a few very close family member for help affording it, and they've been more relieved then anything to provide it. I don't know what's available in your situation, but I hope you start taking your mental health seriously and put it as priority number one in your life, far above needing to date.
posted by Dynex at 8:01 PM on March 4, 2013


You're so worked up with guilt that I don't know if this will be helpful at all, but you should know that HPV is very transmissible, and does not even require penetrative sex to transmit/acquire. Condoms alone are not enough. See the CDC for info about that, but you may be aware that it can be transmitted through oral/genital sex and probably other ways that involve touching.

And for a perspective on your physical health, not the social, dating fear you've described, I will relate that I had HPV, had cervical cancer because of it, had surgery twice on my cervix, and still successfully had two kids. In those days (the 80's) HPV was just being discovered, and it wasn't detected until I had actually developed cervical cancer. You're way ahead in terms of intervention. And my husband never got it.

I don't think your issues are really about HPV. It's so common that your reaction is out of proportion. Think about that.
posted by citygirl at 8:13 PM on March 4, 2013


is it possible to go to a different gyno who has availability tomorrow if I just tell them my pap was abnormal? I don't think I am physically/mentally/etc capable of waiting until Thursday with this hanging over me. I don't have the results with me (they sent it to some private voice mail thing) but I literally do not know how I am expected to make it until Thursday with this thing unresolved. please don't delete this it is a direct question.
posted by dekathelon at 8:21 PM on March 4, 2013


Try to find a counselor of some sort who has availability tomorrow. The problem here is that you don't have the emotional tools to handle a potential sexually transmitted infection. It seems like it's quite common for people to think that just magically appears if you hit a certain level of sluttiness. This is not true. I know people who got HPV from their first sexual partner.
posted by RainyJay at 8:50 PM on March 4, 2013


is it possible to go to a different gyno who has availability tomorrow if I just tell them my pap was abnormal?

IANAMD, but without the results...I'm not sure what the other gyno is going to be able to do for you. They'd just have to do another test and you'd have to wait for the results and then schedule another follow up...and by then it'll be waaaaay past Thursday.

But you should call Planned Parenthood tomorrow and ask to speak with one of their health counselors.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:52 PM on March 4, 2013


I don't have the results with me (they sent it to some private voice mail thing)

Huh. OK, on that list of answers, update (d) to "Ask my doctor to explain my test results." Do you recall if you got a Pap + HPV or just a Pap? The former is usually only routinely performed on women over 30 years of age.

Otherwise, yes, you can certainly call around and ask and I think it would be good to burn off your anxiety with constructive action but start with calling your usual gyn first thing tomorrow, tell the person on the phone exactly what you just said: the situation is just too stressful for you and you need to have the doctor (or a NP) explain your results to you, either over the phone or in person right away. Tell them you're willing to wait to take any opening (they might ask you come hang out in the waiting room).

Declining to see you 'til Thusday is actually a positive thing: from their standpoint, you aren't dying.
posted by jamaro at 8:53 PM on March 4, 2013


I don't see why it would not be possible but I'm not sure what kind of resolution you seek. If they did another pap and it was fine, you'd probably feel better but I'm not sure that proves or settles anything, and you'll likely feel worse if you get another abnormal pap. That's one way in which it is almost similar to HIV - if you had been exposed to HIV, you'd take a test now, 3 months from now, and 6 months from now. If the first two tests came back as negative for HIV, you still wouldn't be out of the woods. And even if the doctor could say tomorrow that you have HPV, what would you do?

I had a biopsy a few months ago that was abnormal. I talked to my doctor and he said that it was probably fine but they would do another test, which they did and it was fine. It was scary getting the call from my doctor - he never calls me himself - and then i worried that i had cancer, but i lived with that worry and it was fine. If I had freaked out after getting his call and insisted to see him again immediately, it would have just been a headache for me and him and even if he could have done a biopsy right then, I still would have had to wait for the labs to come back. And that was a test for cancer - a routine test for cancer but an actual test for cancer, not a cancer pre-cursor.

Try to see another doctor if you like but I think it won't be a good use of anyone's time. Better yet, see a counselor tomorrow.
posted by kat518 at 8:59 PM on March 4, 2013


The whole thing makes me feel even worse because if someone had just decided to stay with me instead of making me keep dating around then this might not have happened.

I missed this before, but I think it's worth pointing out the implicit meaning in this sentence: If only you were deserving enough to keep a guy hooked on you, you might not have gotten HPV. If only you were pretty, popular, funny, cool, hot, smart, sexy, funny, or whatever enough to have a boyfriend, you wouldn't be marked with a scarlet letter now... Please understand how nonsensical this line of thinking is, especially in conjunction with this...

the idea just fills me with disgust even before I consider the prospect of putting my pictures and personal info on one of those for all to see, or considering the decimated dating pool I'd be in and the caliber of people there.

Hot, sexy, popular, successful people get STDs too. You don't become a "low caliber" person by getting an STD. People with STDs aren't doomed to a "decimated dating pool" or dying alone. One of my friends is a well-respected lawyer, happily married to a great guy, just had an adorable baby, has genital herpes. She's super open about it because she's not ashamed and has no reason to be. It hasn't prevented her from accomplishing any of her goals or living a full, happy life.

If having HPV ruins your life, it'll only be because you allowed your shame and self-loathing to feed and grow into a monster. It'll be because you let it become something huge and important, and let it speak for who you are. GET HELP. Salamander is dead on. It's great to look after your physical health and get all the treatment and medical advice you may need if you do in fact have HPV. But if you treated your mental health issues with half the urgency you're demonstrating here, you might actually get the help you need to turn your life around.
posted by keep it under cover at 10:03 PM on March 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


> "HPV" sounds like "HIV" which of course would freak people the fuck out, and that's in addition to the sheer fact that I have an STD. "Warts" sounds gross and scary (and I don't even know if I have any yet. The gyno didn't see any when I got the pap but you never know.) "Cancer" sounds awful and scary, even if it's mostly a female risk.

Look, you can flail around believing incomplete and half-misunderstood and imagined accusations about HPV and beat yourself up, or you can go read all the fact sheets that people have linked to pass the time between now and Thursday. It's Tuesday. What you know right now is that there were some abnormal cells for unknown reasons and so you need to get screened further to see what's going on. That is all. Plan to be a homebody for a couple of weeks, but there is literally nothing to disclose to partners right now.

I know it's nerve-wracking. Man, do I know nerve-wracking. Cancer? Yeah, I know it's awful and scary. A year and a half ago, I had the first abnormal pap of my entire life. I was 37. It was pretty abnormal. Follow-up exam results were that it was probably pre-cancerous. Then, the colposcopy showed carcinoma in situ -- basically cancer cells waiting to replicate. Then, I had a cone-shaped chunk of my cervix removed via a fairly minor surgery (this wasn't fun, keep getting your paps) which showed that I actually had very early-stage invasive cancer.

But you may not have HPV at all. If you do currently have HPV, the strains of HPV that cause warts cause visible warts. The strains of HPV that cause cancer do not cause warts at all, and those abnormal cells do not turn into cervical cancer in two days or two weeks or two months.

Oh, but awkward explanations for HPV? I've been monogamous for 10 years, and I am absolufuckinglutely sure that my partner has been monogamous with me for reasons that I'm not getting into. It's part of the reason I let things slide a little and had missed my annual gyn checkup a couple of years in a row while being distracted by a few completely unrelated health issues. Yep, it sure is ironic and mysterious. It's the truth, though. It's not even that mysterious. "Clear" can be dormant.

Anyway, as for HPV being scary...well, not maybe as much for a lot of men, some barely even know about it unless they've been through an abnormal pap scare with a girlfriend. Men aren't routinely tested for HPV as an STD because unless it gives them warts, because otherwise it pretty much doesn't do anything to them (absent other health issues and a few exceptions like anal cancer, which is quite a bit more rare than cervical cancer) and HPV clears on its own most of the time anyway with nada to show for it.

The burden is on women to get our pap smears since the "invisible" types only affect our bits. Cancerously. Sometimes. Women's bodies clear it as well, over and over. This isn't like AIDS. Getting the virus doesn't matter very much in the grand scheme of things unless it's affecting your cells to the point where they're flagged as abnormal on paps. We medically deal with it at that point, because if you get paps regularly it should leave plenty of time to monitor it and/or head it off before anything beyond minor surgery is required.

MeFiMail me (click my profile) if you want to talk more about anxiety about waiting for test results and what we do to ourselves in our minds. I do understand.
posted by desuetude at 11:45 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a deal breaker for some people. That's perfectly okay for them and for you.

It's also incredibly common, as you know, and not a giant health issue.

Most worrying for me is that you seem to think that it's likely that the kind of guys you date would call you a slut for any reason at all. I think your biggest problem is that you apparently date assholes.
posted by cmoj at 12:50 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maybe this column published just last week by professional sexual health educator Laura Anne Stuart of Northwestern University might help? Please, Don't Be "Devastated" When You Find Out You Have HPV
posted by kuppajava at 8:31 AM on March 5, 2013


These test are erratic. Had a friend who was positive for this and the next time she went in to get it checked, turns out the former test had errors. No STD.
posted by pakora1 at 1:21 PM on March 5, 2013


[This is a comment from an anonymous user.]
I'm the woman from this thread.

Yes, that was an awful time for me, even though it was a misdiagnosis. I didn't feel like a slut, but I felt like I had the Scarlet Letter or something. I was heartbroken at the time, but I got out of the funk and have a great life now. I did end up getting Gardasil because the doctor told me that even if I did already have HPV it would protect me against other strains. I definitely recommend it.

Since then I have also gotten a boyfriend, who I told about the HPV scare just so we could have the STD discussion and because I guess I'm a bit paranoid about it now. He educated himself on the subject, agreed it wasn't a big if I had it because statistically we probably both have it, we both got STD screenings for the more dangerous STDs. I'm really glad we had that discussion- it probably would have saved me from the awful relationship in the question and a similar discussion definitely saved me from guy I dated before the boyfriend, who told me he didn't want to think about it, which was a red flag and I discontinued dating him.

I also met a woman recently who had been married to her only sex partner for 40 years and had not been getting regular pap smears because she didn't think she had that risk. She was recently diagnosed with cervical cancer that had progressed to the point where it is likely she will not survive it. HPV is a risk for anyone who has ever had sex, unless the one person they had sex with is also a virgin and stays that way. That is a rare situation, so HPV is a potential issue for almost everyone and people should be educated that it's out there. I can't lie, you might be rejected- I was, but it's so prevalent that I don't think the average potential sex partner will consider it grounds for rejection.
posted by cortex at 1:23 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Stop feeling "dirty" and "gross" because you have an abnormal pap smear. Living creatures are gross by design. We shit and barf and fart and sweat and in the morning our breath smells. EW! But since we all share these problems, they aren't deal breakers for the majority. And most people just persue the course of managing the grossness. In teh case of an abnormal pap, you just let your body clear it and get a follow up pap in 6 months to see if it comes back normal. Would you feel so devalued in the dating world if you had the flu right now and had explosive diarhea? If yes, you need therapy, If no, then I assure you an abnormal pap smear is much less "gross". Chill Out, go to your follow up, find a date that's not bubbleboy, and go on with your life.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:53 PM on March 5, 2013


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