Please don't pass the cauliflower: HPV
October 5, 2007 6:05 PM   Subscribe

Okay, I'll just say it: I've got genital warts.

I was diagnosed in July after a rather regrettable one-night stand in May. It was a mild case, looking nothing like the scary pictures I'd seen online -- the warts were smooth and flat and fairly small, and all were external. My pap (taken at the same time as diagnosis) was clean, as were my complete STD screens (including HIV).

My doctor gave me Aldara (imiquimod) cream for one month. When I went in at that point for a check-up, she said the spots that remained were more or less gone and it would be okay to stop using the cream.

In the month that followed the warts came back, at least in a couple of places. I filled my refill of Aldara and used it for a couple more weeks, but didn't have any luck. It's not any worse than it ever was, but of course now it's just making me mad. Ever since I came down with this I have felt disgusting, like I'll never be sexually appealing to anyone again.

Something that complicates matters is that I take a drug that suppresses (part of) my immune system, for a separate immune dysfunction. I imagine this is part of the reason I haven't been able to fight off the warts.

And I've tried a high-dose regimen of folic acid and one of the B vitamins that I read about online, which seemed to have no effect.

I'm going to go to a doctor in the next few days, but I'd like to hear from people who've been successfully treated -- what worked for you? Should I do cryotherapy next? How painful is it? How long did it take you to clear? How did you deal with the awful feeling that comes with being "tainted" this way? How are you now? Did anyone have success with Aldara? Any other alternative measures I can try?

(And please, spare the safe sex lectures, etc. I already know. And I'm tested regularly for everything including HIV and will continue to be.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Most HPV infections in women under 30 do spontaneously clear up. This is way the Digene Hybrid-Capture II test for high risk and low risk human papilloma virus is recommended for women over 30. Persist in using the cream and eventually it will clear up. Repeated infections and infections from multiple viral sources are the problem. Youare in good company, if this is any consolation: in some states the rate of infections reaches 38%.
posted by francesca too at 6:24 PM on October 5, 2007

Unfortunately, the treatment record for genital warts is not good. Treatment is expensive, more effective treaments tend to be painful and even more expensive (like lasering), and even the most effective are not really that effective--because the treatment only takes care of the warts, the virus is still in your body and will lead to the warts possibly occurring again.

HPV is one of the most widely-spread and poorly-understood STDs out there. Sometimes the virus clears from the body--except when it doesn't. Sometimes treatments permanently get rid of the warts--except when they don't. Doctors don't know what leads to the virus clearing out, why the warts sometimes come back and sometimes don't, or what can accelerate the practice. Some people have warts for years and others eliminate the virus less than a year from contracting it. Others will have the virus forever without ever having symptoms.

You can continue to buy treatments to keep the warts at bay but there is no guarantee they won't continue to come back until your body. The most economical bet is to maintain an ultra-healthy lifestyle and wait it out. There are a number of support sites out there where you can read others anecdotes.
posted by schroedinger at 6:35 PM on October 5, 2007

Also, right after I posted this I know my answer sounds depressing . . . It is. I think because HPV was not considered "dangerous" and knowledge about its cancer-causing properties was not widespread until relatively recently, not a ton of research has been done on it. And viruses are tricky devils, hard to manage even with mucho dollars going into top-notch laboratories.
posted by schroedinger at 6:37 PM on October 5, 2007

Man, and I'm sorry for posting again, but you are likely to get more help if you post a throwaway email address so people can contact you privately.
posted by schroedinger at 6:39 PM on October 5, 2007

Ever since I came down with this I have felt disgusting, like I'll never be sexually appealing to anyone again.

I can't speak to your HPV or continued quest for a solution, but from a psychological stand point you shouldn't additionally self-inflict some idea that you're unappealing. That is just not fair to you or future partners. HPV is so prevalent that chances are many of your future partners have already been exposed to it (or never even thought about it) to begin with.

Speaking as a guy you should mention it because we like to know that sort of thing, but be prepared for the fall out. Most of us don't know anything about HPV. A few won't care. A few will be freaked out. The rest will appreciate the heads up, the information, and take the necessary precautions.

Keep condoms on hand and make sure you are able and willing to talk openly with any future mates about this issue. Don't let it rule your relationships! Good luck!
posted by wfrgms at 10:02 PM on October 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

really it depends on the flavor of HPV, i think. worst case scenario: certain varieties have been associated with cervical cancer. associated with. varieties. or variety.

i picked up a dose like 10 years ago tho and haven't seen a trace for years. treatment in the day constituted freeze spray. very primitive. they just fuckin zapped'em. and then hoped the immune system would take over from there.

mine did, eventually.

i'd bag the 'ultra healthy lifestyle' advice and just live, and enjoy every beat your heart transplant (or whatever it is that's suppressing your immune sys) gives you. the biggest burden is not the warts but having to tell future partners that you're carrying. ('and now for the bad news!' i'd always say...) one thing that might make the burden easier is finding the fuck that landed this on you and saying, shame, shitball, shame. the only other consolation is A. you can tell your partner it's 99% harmless, and you'll make the pancakes; and B. there's like a 33% chance that s/he has it already; and C. with proper protection it's not an issue; and D. you're fucking hot. does s/he really want to pass on this pussy? also: demand a confidence in return.
posted by It ain't over yet at 10:09 PM on October 5, 2007 [4 favorites]

follow-up from the OP:

i wanted to say that i have already started my round of the hpv vaccine -- strange that my insurance covered it because i'm quite a bit beyond the age range, but i'm not complaining. hopefully this will help me in the future. it's not indicated for current infections but my doc said it couldn't hurt.

also, my main concern isn't (believe it or not) the cervical cancer aspect, because my paps since infection have been clean and i'm a big believer in preventative medicine (helps to live in a country where this is a priority and possibility). somehow it seems i was infected externally but not internally. the primary source of my grief over this is the warts.

i'm not sure how i can ever be confident sexually with this as long as i physically manifest warts. i can't imagine there's any ethical way i can have sex while i'm like this. (not that i'm passing on any opportunities these days... probably this doesn't help me feel better about my condition.) i never felt bad about the possibility of contracting HPV in and of itself -- i figure it's a part of life now -- but the warts make me feel horrible -- dirty and infectious and not worth it. this definitely isn't an hpv thread as much as it's a genital warts thread, if you know what i mean.

i wish i didn't feel this way. i wouldn't about a friend in my position. i guess being single, with no prospects, and being physically diseased anyway, just makes me feel a little hopeless.

finally -- those of you who say i should disclose and carry on proudly, you can't be saying i should have sex with warts? my assumption is that i can not have sex until the warts have disappeared. and based on my experience thus far, that seems like it may be months away.

i can get email at i'd definitely prefer posts, though, if possible. part of the problem about having an STD has been that no one talks about it, and so when you catch one, you feel like the only person in the damn world who's damaged.
posted by jessamyn at 5:43 AM on October 6, 2007

Anonymous, I get what you are saying, so thanks for the follow up post.

I think part of what is going on here is that you are (as many of us, including me, do) conflating several things, and that is causing you to feel badly. It seems that you've got being single with no prospects and warts and maybe even other stuff all balled up into one thing. When I do this, I force myself, if I can, to be rational, like a robot or a computer program.

So, try saying to yourself: they are just warts. What's so bad about that? They are extra pieces of skin-like material. Is that really gross? Nah. It is just a little bumpy thing. Also: we all carry around all kinds of viruses and bacteria that don't manifest in symptoms, but we have them nonetheless. Ew! big deal. Really, rationally, are warts gross? Or are they just a fact you can deal with?

I think these warts are being used as a focal point for other stuff, and if you deal with the other stuff, the warts won't seem so bad. Like everyone has said, LOTS of people have them - I know plenty of people who do. And I agree with you that you shouldn't expose other people while they are present. Good call there.

So, back to the other stuff...I think the real question here is about "single with no prospects" or something else, and the warts are the focus point for this unhappiness. Now, I could be really wrong, and if so, I apologize. I know for me, when I am focusing on something like that, it is usually traceable to my being negative or beating myself up about something. This could obviously differ for you. But I do think that it is reasonable to decide to say, "Huh, I got warts, and they will go away, and it is not a big deal." Most people have had a partner, and it only takes one to get them, so there is no shame in is just biology.

I hope this makes sense. I am really trying to help you, and I think I get what you are saying. What I mean is that I think you can change your cognitions about this and that would be a fully acceptable and good thing to do. You are not being afflicted with a pestilence as punishment for enjoying yourself one night. And that might be the wrong interpretation of your suffering, but I am using it as an example. I hope you feel better soon.
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 7:27 AM on October 6, 2007

I've had HPV for close to five years now, and my initial reaction was a lot like yours — I felt dirty and undesirable, and I felt too like it would be unethical for me to sleep with anyone who I might pass it on to. For a year, I had a boyfriend who I refused to have capital-S-Sex with because I didn't want to have it on my conscience. I guess he could tell that it was important to me, because he honored that decision even though I'd made it without asking his opinion. That was how dirty I felt — I figured anyone who wanted to sleep with me would be making a horrible mistake and I needed to protect them from their bad judgment.

The real point I want to make, though, is that those feelings can fade if you let them.

When my wife and I started dating, I'd had HPV for maybe two years. I had started to accept it on my own, and so when she said she was willing to sleep with me despite the risk, it was finally something I was willing to hear. It still seemed bizarre, mind you, and too good to be true, but I was willing to believe her.

I don't believe it makes any difference to your own health whether you have sex now or wait for the visible warts to go away. (Some never do — mine haven't.) And ethically, it certainly doesn't make any difference. The Right Thing To Do will always be to inform your partner and help them make an educated decision, but it really is their decision. Some people, hard as it is to believe, will understand what they're getting into and still say yes. LET THEM.

As far as body shame goes, there are people out there who honestly won't notice. I've had partners who didn't notice mine until I pointed them out, and I'd have thought they were pretty obvious. The only explanation I've got is that we all have things we focus on and things we ignore. Me, I can't tell you what color eyes a single one of my friends has. If I can be oblivious to that in broad daylight, then yes, a new partner who's excitedly meeting your bits for the first time in a dark room — and distracted by kissing you, and wondering what you're thinking, and probably caught up in his own insecurities — can be oblivious to how they look too.

Even better, it's possible for people to notice and not care. My wife and the ex-boyfriend I mentioned before both reacted with honest curiosity. The warts weren't a turn-on, they weren't a turn-off, they were just there, like a freckle or wrinkle or stray hair. Eventually, I've managed to take that attitude towards them myself.

I guess the upshot is that, yeah, what you're going through right now really sucks, but it can get better.

Email's in my profile — feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:37 AM on October 6, 2007

This may be obvious, but don't futz with them. Don't scratch them or pick at them. It just makes it more unpleasant in the long run.

That said, they're just warts. Would you feel this bad if you got some warts on your fingers? Probably not. You'd just cover them up with one of those OTC treatments or get them zapped at the doctor's office. They're just a thing, like zits or scars. They just are.

Unless your partners are looking at your cunt with a bright light shining on it, they are not going to have any idea that you have genital warts. That is not to say you shouldn't tell them, you should. But just in the normal act of sex, they're not going to see them.

You should always use a condom anyway, but if they want to give you head you should use a dental dam or saran wrap just to be safe, and if they want to finger you, you should have gloves on hand. All of this as a precaution.

Mine spontaneously went away after a couple of months, and I've not had a breakout since (7 years on).

Good luck.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:24 AM on October 6, 2007

As a straight male, I've had partners tell me that they had warts or herpes, and it's never been an issue. I know that it was a bit awkward for them to disclose this stuff, but I was always so in to them it didn't matter at all.
posted by miles1972 at 3:49 PM on October 6, 2007

« Older What is wrong with the MIGHTY MERCURY?   |   Do I REALLY need to take offf my iPod during... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.