Q&A of the Week: Sex After HPV?
Jennifer asks: I was told about two years ago that I have HPV after having several paps come up abnormal. I have undergone surgery and several procedures to remove the severe dysplasia on my cervix. Since this has happened, I have not had a sexual partner for fear of re-exposure or infecting him. I have become involved in a relationship and I am scared to have sex. I have read many articles on HPV and not one is clear about being contagious. According to my doctor, I may not be. According to an article, there is no protection against me receiving or transmitting the virus even if we practice safe sex. I have also read that after surgery or after 1 year of normal paps, you no longer carry the virus, thus making you unable to transmit it. What is true? Can I infect my partner? Help me please. Thank you very much.
Hi, Jennifer -
The reason you've been having trouble finding information is that no one is sure when a person with HPV reaches a point where they can no longer can transmit the virus. It is true that most of the time people clear the virus out of their systems, but sometimes it persists, and the level of contagion, or how to determine it, is still unknown. In the face of this, especially given that most people have been exposed to HPV at some time or other, we all have to make some decisions. Here are some facts that might help guide your thinking on this:
1) Remember that unless your boyfriend has no chance of exposure to HPV (in other words, he hasn't ever been sexually active, or has been only with others who haven't been sexually active before being with him) he more likely than not has been exposed, and could well be carrying it himself. Males with the types of HPV that cause dysplasia and cancer generally don't have any symptoms at all. In other words, we have to assume that almost everyone has the virus. However, if everyone stopped having sex because of this, the human population would soon stop reproducing!
2) Part of your decision may be influenced by whether you see this as long-term committed relationship. On the Rutgers Student Health Web site, they advise: "If both partners are otherwise healthy individuals with normal immune systems, and both partners remain monogamous, they should eventually become free of HPV disease because of the formation of antibodies against the HPV by their own immune systems." In other words, both of you could expose each other to the types of HPV you each are carrying, but over time you will both fight off the virus and reach a stable situation in your own bodies. This seems like a reasonable approach to me.
3) Remember that although it's true that condoms (both male and female versions) don't offer complete protection from HPV, they probaby cut down on transmission. Even diaphragms may be somewhat helpful in this regard.
I know this is not what you wanted to hear, but I hope you find it somewhat
helpful. Best wishes to you.
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Reviewed and revised 7/01
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