Savage Love

I am a 26-year-old hetero male, and I recently started hooking up with a new girl. She's very cute and smart and I'm really attracted to her. During a recent makeout session, she informed me that she has HPV, the STD that causes genital warts. From what I've read, condoms don't necessarily mean you're safe. I've been sexually active for a number of years, and I've had unprotected sex with other partners. Could I have HPV already? Can you please shed some light on this disease for me? I really want to have sex with this girl, but not at the risk of screwing up my penis for the rest of my life.

Worrying About Warts

 

HPV is not a big deal.

Before an angry mob of Planned Parenthood educators gathers under my window, let me get this on the record: In the STD galaxy, HPV is a supernova. Twenty million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and every year 6 million more Americans contract one of the more than 100 different known strains of the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50 percent of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV infection at some point during their lives. By age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired HPV infection. Some strains of HPV--a.k.a. the human papillomavirus--can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, anus, or penis; other strains can result in unpleasant and unsightly warts on cocks, balls, pussy flaps, asslips, etc., and condoms offer only minimal protection.

So where do I get off saying that HPV is no big deal? Because in the vast and overwhelming majority of cases, WAW, men and women with HPV show no symptoms, never develop a single genital wart, and don't come down with cancer of the stanky stuff. And while we once thought that HPV was like herpes--i.e., once a person is infected he's infected and infectious forever--we now know, as the wonks at the CDC put it, "...most people who become infected with HPV [will] clear the infection on their own."

So should you have sex with this girl? If you've been fucking other women without protection, well, odds are good that you've been exposed to HPV already. But even if you have sex with this girl and contract HPV, the odds that you will screw up your penis forever are slight. Sex always carries some risk, WAW, and when the risk is slight and the reward is great most adults go for it.

Finally, when I say that HPV isn't that big a deal I don't mean to imply that people shouldn't seek treatment if they have warts or inform their sex partners if they know they're infected. Women, in particular, have to be vigilant. If you're a sexually active woman, assume you have HPV and get annual Pap tests. Every year in the United States more than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,100 women die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Most of these cancers are caused by "high-risk" strains of HPV, and early detection through Pap tests for cervical cancer saves lives. According to the CDC, most women who develop invasive cervical cancer have not had regular cervical cancer screenings. Don't let that happen to you, ladies.

 

I had a hysterectomy last year as a result of cervical dysplasia caused by HPV infection. My doctor said that I had had the virus for years, and that it generally takes that long to get to this point. I've never had the warts or anything. About two months ago I spent a week knocking boots with a friend. He knew I had had the hysterectomy, and he knew why. Some time later he slept with another girl. She discovered last week that she has cervical dysplasia. She accused me of spreading diseases. I explained that I didn't think she could have gotten to that point in the space of a month, and that massive numbers of women have HPV without knowing about it. Did I give it to her? My doctor says no. My conscience says no. What's the deal?

Elsewhere

Here's another "no" for your collection, E: "It takes months to years to go from HPV infection to cervical changes," said Deborah Oyer, Medical Director of Seattle's Aurora Medical Services, which provides full-spectrum women's health care. "I can't imagine a woman getting HPV and in four weeks' time progressing to cervical dysplasia," which is the appearance of funky, potentially precancerous cells on the cervix. "I would absolve Elsewhere," Oyer continued, "but I can't say she's not contagious. If she still has HPV in her system, she could be contagious."

Oh, and while we're on the subject of HPV... Researchers have been hard at work on two vaccines for HPV, vaccines that could save thousands of women's lives. In clinical trials the vaccines have prevented 90 percent of new HPV infections. Good news, huh? Not for the religious right. Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council told New Scientist magazine that "giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex."

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