[Question #3158] Conversation regarding HPV in a new relationship

37 months ago

About 1.5 years ago, my girlfriend at the time was diagnosed with HPV.  We are no longer together and I have not had any sexual intercourse with any new partners since then (it's been about 12+ months since we last had sex - we separated last summer).  Furthermore, I'm a healthy 40-year old male and never showed any HPV symptoms such as warts, etc.

I recently started dating someone new, and it's quickly becoming a serious relationship.  We have been practicing safe sex by using condoms, but I'm starting to wonder what my previous exposure to HPV means for us now.  I recently came across this interesting and very insightful podcast by Hunter Handsfield: http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/hpv-faqs.

Dr. Handsfield seems to think that there's no need to specifically talk about my previous HPV exposure to my new partner.  If anything, his recommendation seems to be to mention it as part of the broader std/safe sex talk.

Did I interpret that correctly?  I don't want to expose my new partner to any risks, but also don't want to unnecessarily create any anxiety.

Also  - is oral sex safe when it comes to HPV?  And at what point would it be ok to stop using condoms if we decide to do so?

Edward W. Hook M.D.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
37 months ago
Welcome to our Forum.  Your summary regarding the approach to HPV is exactly right.  Dr. Handsfield and I are in agreement that in a perfect world everyone would be vaccinated with the highly effective HPV vaccine and that when who persons happened to acquire the infection they would accept this as a part of being a sexually active person.  Nearly all HPV infections, even if untreated, will resolve completely without adverse health consequences for the infected person.  We certainly do not dispute that a tiny (far less than 1%) of all HPV infections can go on to cause cancer (most commonly cancer of the cervix but at other potential sites of infection as well) but that by following widely endorsed preventative sexual health recommendations such as periodic screening, these very rare events can be detected early and treated with no adverse health consequences.  

Unfortunately we live in a world where mis-information, mis-interpretation of the relationship between HPV and cancer, and where stigma regarding normal human sexual activity is widespread.  Thus and for this reason at this time while we advocate strongly and try to promote better understanding of HPV infections, their prevention and management and their consequences, we also see little to be gained by disclosure of past HPV infections or, in your case, past HPV exposures to sexual partners other than perhaps in the context of a broader discussion of sexual health. 

HPV can cause oral infections but does so even less often than genital exposures.  We would extend our advice regarding disclosure and prevention to all routes of sexual activity, including oral sex.  Fear of HPV is not a sufficient reason to use condoms if all other reasons for condom use (i.e. family planning, confidence that no other STIs are present, etc.) have been addressed.

Thanks for your question.  I hope that these comments are helpful.  Happy New year.  EWH. 
37 months ago
Great, this is very helpful.  Thank you very much indeed.