[Question #7363] HPV Anxiety

4 months ago
In the early 90's when I was 13 years old I noticed a bump on my penis, but didn't think much of it as I have never had any sexual contact other than kissing a girl. Eventually it went away, but would re-appear in my high school and early college years. I still did not believe it was an STD. As I got into my late teenage and early college years I was having sex and my girlfriend at the time told me her doctor saw a bump near her vagina and it was HPV. She gave her a cream and told her it was common and no big deal and after a while it cleared up. She was still upset about the diagnosis and I was supportive, but never said she mostly likely got it from me. I still thought it was like getting a wart on your hand or foot. I was still in denial. I had  girlfriends and hook-ups after this and never told anyone or thought of it as anything serious. I finally got the diagnosis in college by our infirmary doctor, after having some swollen lymphnodes near my groin area. He noticed a few little clusters on my penis and said it was genital wart. I would need to have it frozen off or other. I kept telling myself no way its an STD and I only dated good girls, etc... They finally went away on there own. 2003 was my last year in college I met my future wife. The warts had gone away before we started dating and I haven't had an outbreak in 20+ years. We got married at 27 and this is when all this info was coming out about HPV and cancer. I was taken back and had such stress and anxiety, I had to tell my wife. She did not think it was a big deal. Eventhough I did not exhibit any symptoms I went and got a full STD screening and blood test. Everything came back normal. Although relieved,  I was disappointed in myself for not taking it more seriously and telling my past partners. Still at 42,  I live with tremendous guilt and anxiety for not doing something about this early in my life and saying something. I was so naive.  I pray often and cry at times from shame.
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
4 months ago
Welcome. Thanks for your question and uyour confidence in oiur services.

I think you're beating yourself up over nothing important. First, it is unlikely the initial penile bump was a wart. It obviously was not possibly sexually acquired. Your early sex partner's genital warts probably were not from you; rather, your warts diagnosed around that time probably were from her. Everybody (over 90%) gets one or more genital HPV infections -- it's a normal, expected, unavoidable consequence of human sex. Your own naivete about HPV and genital warts in the 1990s, was entirely normal -- the large majority of people didn't have the understandings that evolved over the last 2-3 decades. And in some ways those earlier perceptions were valid:  genital warts ARE a trivial, minor inconvenience for most people -- not an important health risk. And the types of HPV that cause warts don't cause cancer. Your wife's response when you first discussed HPV with her ("She did not think it was a big deal") was exactly the right vewipoint.

As for other STD testing, it's a good idea for anyone who has had an average sex life -- with at least a few partners prior to settling in to a committed long term relationship -- to have STD testing. However, people who have had HPV are at no more risk than anyone else. Since everybody gets HPV, and many of us carrying the virus for life, it's not a valid indicator of risk for other STDs. 

Your closing three sentences indicate far more concern than warranted. There is absolutely no reason for shame, guilt, or anxiety over any of this. Given the obivous depth of these feelings, I hope you're discussing this with your wife, who apparently has a sober and accurate understanding about HPV, that it just isn't a big deal for most people. My guess is that even that, or my reply, isn't going to be sufficient, and that professional counseling might be warranted. I suggest it from compassion, not criticism.

I hope these comments are helpful. Let me know if anything isn't clear.

HHH, MD
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4 months ago
Thank you Dr. Hansfield for your quick response. I appreciate your thoroughness in explaining HPV. You really have made me feel better. I pray that they find a cure for this virus. I am praying for your work to prosper and for leading the way in the fight against STD's. Thank you again for everything!! 
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
4 months ago
Thanks for the thanks and also for your kind words. Best wishes and stay safe.---