How did I get HPV?
August 28, 2021 5:32 PM   Subscribe

I am mystified as to how I could have contracted HPV (cis female). I had my first abnormal Pap smear when I was 19. At that point, I had only had two sexual partners; both cis females. My first partner and I were each other’s firsts; my second partner and I both each other’s seconds, with her first (cis female) partner also being her first and vice versa. Content warning for more inside; possible sexual abuse.

This shouldn’t be possible, right? Unless partner #2’s first partner was not truthful about their history?

I ask because I am afraid some kind of sexual abuse may have happened to me when I was young. I have no memories of such, but I have no memories of much of my childhood due to other forms of abuse happening. I did start “acting out” sexually at a young age; like masturbating as a toddler and playing house with my friend, both of us lying in bed and pretending to me husband and wife. I know that this is not so strange for kids. I have had a mostly healthy relationship to sex and my sexuality as an adult. I do think the likelihood is small; after extensive therapy I have been able to regain a mostly coherent memory of my childhood years, and I would love for there to be some other explanation.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
Maybe one of the other three people involved (your two sexual partners, and your second partner's previous partner) had bad early experiences? Moreover: Human papillomavirus (HPV) contamination of gynaecological equipment (2015), Possible non-sexual modes of transmission of human papilloma virus (2017), Human Papillomavirus Infection at the Time of Delivery (2021)
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:40 PM on August 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

After your abnormal pap smear, were you actually tested for HPV? A pap smear is a screening for abnormal cells but doesn't directly test for HPV. It's possible (though not common) to have an abnormal pap without having HPV.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:52 PM on August 28, 2021 [10 favorites]

There are at least 5 people other than yourself involved who could be fudging or leaving out parts of their sexual history. Any of them could have passed this along.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 5:52 PM on August 28, 2021 [7 favorites]

It is my understanding HPV usually goes away on its own (90% by two years?), so I doubt it is from your childhood.

It is entirely normal, appropriate, and common for toddlers to try "masturbating".
posted by flimflam at 6:24 PM on August 28, 2021 [8 favorites]

It is my understanding that you can pick up HPV from skin contact, and that most people who have it do not have any symptoms. Even if you only ever had genital contact with your own hands, if you hugged/held hands/non-sexually touched enough other human beings, you could have gotten it that way.

This seems really unlikely to be an indicator of sexual abuse to me.
posted by All Might Be Well at 6:28 PM on August 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

HPV is so common it might as well be in the air. Others have given good thoughts above.

I would like to tell you that no matter what your history or age, it's not too late to get the Gardasil vaccine just in case. I'm just old enough that I was too old for it to be recommended to me when it came out, I had a chat with my doctor about it, and I'm currently in the middle of the shot series now.
posted by phunniemee at 6:52 PM on August 28, 2021 [16 favorites]

I’ve had abnormal paps and tested negative for HPV. My doctor assumed I’d had the virus and already cleared it, but there’s no way to really know. By the time they told me, I’d had a couple of abnormal paps apparently, and as best I can tell, the first one was before I’d ever had penetrative sex. This is just to reassure you that people have abnormal paps without PIV sex and sometimes also without HPV.
posted by assenav at 9:38 PM on August 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

I did start “acting out” sexually at a young age; like masturbating as a toddler and playing house with my friend, both of us lying in bed and pretending to me husband and wife.

I want to reassure you that this is normal toddler sexual behavior, not "acting out."
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:31 AM on August 29, 2021 [10 favorites]

19 is young to have a cervical smear test. In the UK and Australia, the recommendation is that people wait until they are 25 to join cervical screening programmes because (1) giving smear tests to younger people results in high numbers of effectively false positives, as it's common to have "abnormalities" that go away by themselves; (2) cervical cancer is exceedingly rare in this age group; and (3) screening under 25s has not reduced that low incidence.

Given that HPV is effectively a skin disease, it is not unheard of for people to pass it on to a partner in ways in which they wouldn't consider to be sexual activity (that is, your 2nd partner's first partner, for example, may have had HPV without deliberately lying about their previous experience). Also, it's so unbelievably common, that I would assume every sexual partner I have ever had or will have, will at some point have picked up an HPV infection, which may or may not have cleared. I would just not worry about this at all.
posted by plonkee at 7:52 AM on August 29, 2021 [4 favorites]

There is evidence to suggest that you can get HPV from kissing, because it can be transmitted orally, although it's been hard to document such transmission in a lab. So unless all of these firsts and seconds, including you, had never kissed another person on the mouth before, it's entirely possible that one of you contracted it orally from contact that none of you would have classified as sex, and then inadvertently passed it on to someone else's genitals through sexual contact.
posted by decathecting at 8:14 AM on September 1, 2021

I worked in an STD clinic for many years. Parents routinely pass HPV to their children. You are thinking too narrowly if you are limiting yourself to sexual partners. You can pick it up from someone's hand.
posted by OmieWise at 4:40 PM on October 12, 2021

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