[Question #1346] HPV

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87 months ago
I realise this is largely a psychological problem as I am prone to anxiety.
I had 3 one night stands when I was 19/20…. Without protection.
This was 5 years ago. I have been tested for everything I can and all clear.
Now I am worried that I have a higher chance of having the HPV type that causes cancer in women….. my fear is that I am at risk of passing this on to any new partners that I might have? and increase their risk of developing cancer.
One particular thing that I am concerned about is the fact that one of the girls I slept with had previously been sleeping with a man who boasts of having slept with a LOT of women and that now I fear I have taken many of the strains that he has taken on.
The extent of my sexual life so far has been those 3 one night stands unprotected as well as 2 others with protection….. and it has been 2 years since I last had sex.

Many thanks for your time.
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H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
87 months ago
Welcome to the forum. I'll try to help. However, I agree your problem is primarily psychological -- and such problems rarely clear up just by hearing the facts. I'll give some basic facts about HPV that should reassure you, but I'm pretty sure you're going to need professional counseling to get beyond this.

First, you are at low risk. Any single sexual exposure rarely results in STD. While there is a pretty good chance one or more of your 3 partners had a genital HPV infection, it wasn't necessarily so; and when an STD is present, most sexual exposure do not result in transmission. While the chance you acquired HPV from these particular events is not zero, most likely you did not. Second, if you were infected, by this time -- five years later -- probably the infection is long gone, cleared by your immune system. While HPV DNA can persist for long periods, in general the infection does not reactivate to cause health problems or to be transmitted to partners. Finally, even if you still have an active infection -- which I stess again is very unlikely -- it probably is harmless. Most HPVs never cause symptoms or disease; and even the high risk types that can cause cancer, the large majority never do so.

Catching and having genital HPV is normal. Not desired, but it happens to 90+% of all people. At any point in time, 20-50% of people age 15-25 are infected. Therefore, any person you date is not at increased risk of having HPV by having sex with you. Based on your age 5 years ago, you're probably just under the usual age limit for HPV vaccination (26). If so, you should be vaccinated, which will effectively prevent future infection with the 9 HPV types that cause most health problems (90% of genital warts and 90% of HPV related cancers).

I hope this information has been helpful. As I said above, these facts should be reassuring and I hope they help you move on. But if you continue to obsess about this, and if HPV fears continue to interfere with romance and your sexual health, please consider professional counseling about it. I suggest it from compassion, not criticism.

Let me know if anything isn't clear. Best wishes--  HHH, MD