Dear Queerie Bradshaw,
Should I tell the men I sleep with from here on out that I have mild HPV? I feel I don’t need to tell them since I’ve had all three shots, it’s mild and under control and 3 out of 4 women have it. Is it necessary to tell my potential sex partners that I have it?
Yes. My answer to the question about whether you should tell a partner about your STIs is always yes, with the sole exception of situations in which you think your life would be put in danger (i.e. you’re worried you’d be beaten if you told your partner with anger management issues, in which case we should get some help to get away from that person).
We live in a society where STIs are rampant mostly because we are highly sexualized yet have no proper sexual education, which includes learning about sexual communication. So we have sex but don’t know how to protect ourselves or even talk about protecting ourselves during sex. This makes it so people, and I include myself in this broad generalization, find it hard to actually ask and answer the tough questions before it’s too late.
No matter what I say or how many statistics I spew about people in the same boat as you, I know you’re going to feel a sense of shame and embarrassment over having gotten an STI, because that’s what society tells you to feel in this situation. Yet, I’m going to try to make you feel better anyways.
Why is it that, as a society, we shame someone for getting HPV but praise them as martyred heroes when that HPV turns to deadly cancer? Why is it that we punish people for the STIs that come from having “too much” sex but don’t punish those that develop diabetes from having “too much” sugar? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t continue to support those who have cancer or diabetes, but I am saying that it’s time we stop punishing and ostracizing people who have STIs.
With that in mind, I suggest you start thinking of having HPV as like having cancer, which is precisely what it will become if left unchecked. It’s something you got, doing natural things almost all people do, and it’s not something you should be ashamed to talk about.
In fact, it’s something you absolutely should talk about precisely because it is a kind of cancer, one of the only kinds you can give someone else. Both women and men can develop seriously deadly cancers if HPV is left untreated. HPV accounts for 5% of cancer worldwide. In women it’s often seen as cervical cancer and directly relatable to HPV. However, recent studies have shown that an increase in mouth and neck cancer in men is caused by HPV, showing the disease causes even more problems than previously thought.
There is no such thing as “mild” HPV, all HPV can cause damage if left unchecked.
My brother has tongue turned to neck cancer and although the doctors eliminated HPV as a possible cause, trust me when I say you don’t want to be the reason anyone you know, one night stand or long-term love, ever has to go through what my brother has had to go through.
So, ND, to recap:
- Don’t be ashamed, STIs happen when two people touch bodies, just like colds happen when two people shake hands.
- Even if your HPV is “mild,” it can cause unseen damage in you, so get checked out by a doctor often (at least an annual pap smear and blood test).
- You need to tell your partners to help prevent unseen damage in them as well.
If you need help communicating with your partner, read this post I wrote on communicating during sex. If that doesn’t help, write me back and we’ll come up with some great phrases for you to have ready to use so you’re never caught unprepared.