The HPV infection: Do I have it?
HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that 1 in 4 of us currently have, and 80% of us will get at some point in our lifetime. It is so ridiculously common, and yet talking about it still fills many of us with a sense of shame, embarrassment and fear.
Most strains of HPV are low-risk and commonly go unnoticed. It is totally possible that you have HPV and don’t even know it. There are a handful of strains that are considered “high risk”, and these are the ones that cause abnormal pap smears, and have greater potential. It should make you feel better that most strains of HPV are not dangerous and have no symptoms (which is why it is spread so easily)!
Here is why we need to talk about HPV
The hardest part about talking to your sexual partner about HPV is because of the stigma that surrounds the infection. However, disclosing your HPV status to your sexual partner(s) can be a supportive and affirmative experience.
We are all vulnerable beings, and being able to enter that state of vulnerability is empowering and helps us to establish trust with those we spend such intimate moments with. Disclosing your HPV status may help build on that trust and bring you closer to your partner. Being open and honest demonstrates to your partner that you care and value their sexual health as much as your own. It can also help educate people since HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and yet there is still so much stigma and misinformation surrounding the topic. The more we talk about HPV, the less power it has over us, because the truth is, there is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.
Do I NEED to inform my partner?
Yes. Telling your partner that you have HPV actively breaks the stigma associated with sexually transmitted infections, which is an important part of helping people establish safe sex practices, including those around oral sex. Disclosing your status is also a crucial part of exchanging consent between one another prior to sex.
I know that the fear of rejection is a terrifying thing. No matter what your partner’s response is, take comfort knowing that you are brave, compassionate and honest and that having HPV does not make you less worthy of intimacy. The right partner will understand (or might even have HPV, as well).
Tips for how to discuss HPV with your partner
Have the conversation early in your partnership, before sexual contact. Get to know someone and ensure you feel safe and confident when you are having this conversation. Showing your sexual partner how calm and confident you are will also help assure them that you are well informed. Choose the timeline that you are most comfortable with, and make sure your partner is someone you feel comfortable sharing personal details with.
Choose a safe and comfortable environment. Check in with yourself, make note of how you feel and act accordingly. Maybe your safety is felt more on a hike or outside of the home, or maybe you feel best disclosing this information in the comfort of your own house. It’s best to talk about HPV status when you are in a quiet, safe place.
Your partner might have questions, and this is normal and to be expected. Anticipate these questions so that you are not blindsided or defensive. There are tons of resources available for education, including the CDC, healthline, and more. Our blogs are also an awesome source of information. Have knowledge of HPV prior to your conversation, not only so you are prepared for questions, but also to stay empowered, yourself.
- Set the tone
By sharing this information in a calm, reassuring and educational manner, you set the tone for the conversation. Listen to your partner and observe their response. Answer questions the best you can, and do not tolerate disrespect. Understand that sometimes your partner may not accept or be okay with this information right away, but disrespect is not tolerated.
- Honor yourself
No matter how the conversation goes, you should take pride knowing that you were brave and honest. Many people do not take initiative in their sexually transmitted infection status or are simply scared to share. By doing so, you are helping others make informed choices about their health. Give yourself a pat on the back for being brave enough to make this decision, and be vulnerable. With each person that is brave enough to speak up, we decrease the risk for HPV transmission while also fighting back against the stigma that simply should not be there.