Just found out my ex has HPV

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Dear Dr. Myrtle,

I just found out that an ex-girlfriend of mine has HPV. She had a wart two years before we started dating and never told me (I’m not a happy camper right now). From what I’ve read about the passing of the virus, I have every reason to believe I’m infected, because I’ve had unprotected sex and oral sex with her. However, it’s been about 11 months since our last sexual encounter, and I haven’t seen any symptoms. In addition to this I’ve had sexual relations with three other women, two of them about nine or ten months ago and one of them about two or three months ago.

My dilemma is in determining whether I should contact the women I’ve been in contact with. They haven’t said anything to me (I’m not sure if any of them gets regular pap smears). I will most likely tell my sexual partners in the future that it’s possible I could have it, but I just don’t know where to draw the line when it comes to telling someone. It makes things very difficult for me, especially in the romantic aspect. It will more than likely scare many women away.

Most people have never even heard of HPV (including me, until about three days ago) and will get very freaked out about the whole thing, so it’s not an easy thing to talk about. Plus, I have no idea what my chances of having it are. What should I do?


I agree with your assessment that it’s very likely that you have HPV. Although the transmission rate is not 100 percent, 50 percent of adults (sexually active or not) in the U.S. have HPV, and we know that HPV is easily transmitted, so I think you probably have it. You may never exhibit wart symptoms, because the HPV can live in infected skin cells that do not reproduce into warts. You can give it to anyone with whom you have been sexually intimate (including contact with hands, mouth, whatever) if you have not used barriers to protect yourself from your partners’ skin.

Your recent past partners will very likely also have HPV, and are also likely to never have symptoms. This is why any woman who has ever been sexually intimate should have yearly pap smears, to check for HPV-caused cervical dysplasia and cancer.

It is a complete drag that your ex-partner did not tell you that she had HPV. You would have had the choice about whether:

  • to be sexually intimate with her while using barriers,
  • sexually intimate with her without using barriers, or
  • not sexually intimate with her at all.

The powerful part is that you would have made the decision about your health. While I can see the thoughtfulness in your question, how can you not give someone else a similar choice?

It seems to me that if you make the decision not to tell your partner (past, present, or future), you are essentially saying that you care more about your physical satisfaction than you do about your intimate partner’s future health. The women who may have been exposed need this information so that they can know that it’s very, very important for them to be screened for cervical cancer.

I agree that sex in general is difficult for many people to talk about. In fact, many people feel that it is easier to be sexually intimate than it is to talk about it. Does this make it okay not to talk about it? Nope. I think this is one of the reasons that the U.S. has the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections in the industrialized world. It’s completely embarrassing that as a culture, and as individuals, we cannot talk about something as basic as our pleasure and our intimacy.

I do not agree that women will necessarily turn down relationships with you only on the basis of a sexually transmitted infection that you did not consent to get. Sex can be really fun and satisfying with barriers and toys, and it might be up to you to introduce these new and varied sexual pleasures to your future partners. They may actually thank you for introducing them to their first of many orgasms through toys.

If I were a partner of yours and knew that you had chosen to knowingly expose/infect me as your sexual partner without informing me of the risks (for me to then decide for myself), I would be very angry at your negligence. I would wonder what kind of person I had gotten involved with, and would always worry about what other things you could expose me to without telling me. Trust is earned, not given, and you would have blown it in a big way with me, and with many other women.

I know people who openly tell their partners about their incurable sexually transmitted infections (whether that’s HIV, HSV, HPV, etc.), and have had their partners say "whew! I was wondering how I would tell you I had the same thing ..." I know people who look for partners in the personals by saying "I have Herpes ..." then go on to explain who they are. When they get responses, everyone knows the risks and can make decisions for themselves.

It’s an ethical issue that you pose, and one that I have strong opinions about. For a partner of yours who could eventually be diagnosed with cervical cancer (the cancer caused by HPV), you’ve exposed her to the possibility of dying. You get a sexual relationship, and she gets surgery, radiation therapy (which makes you feel tired, nauseated, and makes your hips feel like elephants walked over them), and some terror about her future.

Don’t be quiet anymore. Let your partners (and ex-partners) know what you have or might have. Let them decide for themselves. Don’t do to them what your ex-partner did to you.

Dr. Myrtle