Adapted from a recent online discussion.
HPV is extremely common, and information is out there
Ashamed, USA: I just found out I got HPV from my first partner. I didn't lose my virginity until I was 29, and it stinks that this had to happen, especially since we recently broke up after a year-and-a-half of dating. On one hand, I understand the statistics were against me, but, on the other hand, I feel like shoes are dropping on me left and right. And I can't help but feel dirty. How do I get over this?
Carolyn: You're not dirty, you're a member of a very large club, and it's safe to assume that most if not all of them bathe regularly, for reasons that I'll let the American Social Health Association (www.ashastd.org) explain:
"It has been estimated that 75 percent or more of sexually active Americans will contract HPV sometime in their lives. This means that anyone who has ever had sexual relations has a high chance of being exposed to this virus, but only a small number of women infected with HPV develop cell changes that need to be treated. In almost all cases, the immune system will keep the virus (including the cancer-related HPV types) under control or get rid of it completely."
Please do visit this site, or drop in electronically on the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) to find out the full story. Everybody who has sex with anyone should have at least working familiarity with the contents.
In the meantime, please know that your HPV will likely run its course. It's different from HSV and HIV that way.
Oh, and if you're female, keep up with your regular gynecological exams, to watch for cervical cancer. But, then, every woman should anyway.
The short answer is, really, it's not that big a deal.
Anonymous: For the HPV diagnosee: The writer notes she did not "lose her virginity" until she was 29, and I wonder if that choice of terminology and the reference to feeling "dirty" because of a very common condition is deserving of any introspection. In other words, I get something of a linkage between sex/risk/"dirtiness" — I know, words are only words. But I wonder if it would be helpful for her to focus on her words and attitudes, not just the facts about the prevalence of HPV. That might help with the blame she seems to be attaching to herself and the condition.
Carolyn: I think you're right that it's tied into the virginity — and don't forget the breakup, too. Combine them all, and you have: "I waited 29 years for my special someone and all I got was this lousy virus."
This love business is not for the faint of heart.
I do think the prevalence issue, though, speaks directly to the "dirty" factor. Someone with this virus, someone who is 29 and has sex with someone — in the context of a long-term relationship, no less — is not on the quarantined fringe of society, but instead is squarely in the mainstream. That isn't going to be the last word on how one defines oneself, and "Ashamed, USA" does need to consider self-forgiveness. That just tends to be easier when you're not alone in your well of pain.