Living With HPV: An STD Ended My Relationship

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Couple arguing in bed
When she was diagnosed with HPV, my girlfriend blamed me.

I never thought she was over-reacting. On the contrary, her emotional response seemed, and still seems, appropriate. Look at that list of diseases again. Why wouldn't she be pissed?

As a rule, giving your partner an STD isn't good for a relationship, especially one quickly falling apart as ours was at the time. We broke up a few months later. The HPV wasn't a primary reason or cause but, like a boulder tossed into a sinking canoe, it wasn't helpful. Her resentment for me grew further after the breakup. From her perspective, I screwed with her sex life long after ours had stopped. Love and (Safe) Sex: How Do You Have The STD Talk?

 

I recalled stories from friends and acquaintances with severe cases of herpes, how they had been quickly and brutally hurt, dismissed by others because of a disease. Rejection is always painful, but it's comforting to know you're not alone. I sought the advice of self-proclaimed relationship experts, aka my friends who were serial daters.

I first mentioned my situation one night to a friend when I was behind a warm and comforting shield of whiskey. I filled in the ugly and brutal details of the whole story, building up to the terrible secret and shame that I and my now-ex carried.

My friend shrugged. "That's it?"

"That's it?! I just told you I possess cancer-causing junk! I'm a freak! I should be dissected on a slab!"

My indignation was partly from the whiskey, partly from feeling I wasn't taken seriously. But the same revelation to others had the same lack of impact. I was told not to worry. HPV wasn't a big deal. But I knew two people for whom it was indeed a very big deal.

In my informal survey, I heard a wide variety of facts about the number of people who have HPV—two-thirds, every fifth person, 100 million. It turns out the CDC estimates that approximately 20 million people are currently infected with HPV, 6 million people will be infected this year, and 50 percent of all sexually active adults will have HPV at some point in their lives. I'm merely part of a very non-exclusive club.

One of the reasons that those numbers are so high is the stealthy nature of the virus. Anyone can carry it with no outward signs or symptoms, then flush it from their body without ever knowing they had it. Unlike other STIs, there's no reliable test to check for HPV in men. For women, fortunately, pap smears can catch HPV, which is how my ex discovered her news.

No one wants to go through life feeling different or deprived of normalcy, especially in sexual matters. But I learned even knowing a little bit more about HPV, being open and sharing, can make the experience feel less isolating, less alone.

A year after the breakup, I had started dating again. I told myself I'd be honest and up-front about my recent past with any new sexual partners. I didn't look forward to explaining why sleeping with me might have more than the usual risks. Remember: I believed my genitals caused cancer.

I made it to the point of full disclosure several times. No matter where it happened—on couches, by bedsides, in street conversations—it was always awkward and uncomfortable. Imagine hearing some guy you'd like to sleep with talk about his ex: she has this STD, she got it from him, there's no test for it, and there's a chance that being physical with him—even with all other safety precautions—may lead to a whole terrifying smorgasbord of side effects, and that he'd like you to know all this before going any further. It can be a bit of a mood killer.

I bared myself before baring myself, braced for the moment of instant pariah-hood and quickly seeing the wrong side of a closing door. But that moment never occurred. My reveal was met not with raised voices or eyebrows but with exhales of tension and understanding tones. Yes, HPV is prevalent. Yes, it's a risk. Yes, there's a lot of nasty things out there. At least it's not bedbugs.

I'm still in touch with my ex. Her initial fears of being a sexual outcast were overcome. She's now in a new long-term relationship after dating several other guys. I'm also in a long-term relationship with a woman who's fully aware of both what's been in my past and what may come up in our future. I no longer consider myself some hideous freak of nature. I'm imperfect—just like every other person. How Wal-Mart Gift Cards Help Solve An STD Outbreak

Think you may have HPV, or want to learn more? Check out the CDC's HPV Fact Sheet and their HPV Topic Page, which includes information about HPV symptoms, screening, the link between HPV and cancer, and more.

 
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