I’m In a Long-Term Relationship — How Did I Test Positive For HPV?

I took three health classes on sexuality in college. I wasn’t a nursing major – I was an English major, just taking electives to reach those 120 credits. I could have taken other courses, but sexuality has always fascinated me. 

I was sheltered until college. I had one semester of health in high school, and because of my epilepsy, I missed it regularly. STIs? I knew nothing. So, college it was. I loved my classes and learned a bunch, digesting every bit of information I was given.

Thank god, because soon after, a friend came to me crying about her HPV diagnosis. Her first fear: that her long-term boyfriend had cheated on her. He denied it, but she had no clue as to how else she could have gotten it. She’d also received the vaccinations when she was younger, so how was this happening to her? 

So, I whipped out my knowledge about this super common STI. Here are the deets, because HPV can affect you, too.

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What Is HPV?

 
 
 
 
 
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Before we dive into the how, let’s cover the what.

HPV, short for Human papillomavirus, is the most common STI, with more than 80% of sexually active people catching it at some point in their lives. While there are only tests for women (pap smears), men and women are equally at risk of contracting it. It’s especially prevalent in younger people (the CDC reported that 43 million people were diagnosed with HPV in 2018, most of whom were in their teens and early 20s). HPV has many forms, with more than 100 types you can catch. 

 
 
 
 
 
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With these 100 types, some go dormant on their own, resolving any abnormal cells in pap smears. However, the WHO reports that HPV can lead to genital warts, and 14 types can be cancer-causing. Two strains – 16 and 18 – account for 70% of cervical cancers. But before you totally freak out: it takes 15 to 20 years for cervical cancer to develop in women, so regular check-ins can catch the cancer in its early stages.


What Are The Symptoms?

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Here’s the thing. Symptoms can include warts, but other than that…there’s really not much. It’s not like your typical STIs, which can cause abnormal discharge or discomfort in the pelvic region. If the HPV is dormant, you won’t know if you have it unless you’re tested for it. That’s why regular pap smears are crucial. This is especially true if you’ve had abnormal cells – while most women need a pap smear every three to five years, your doctor may want to keep a close eye on you and have you come in sooner.


Okay, So How Did I Get It In My Relationship? 

Yes, it’s possible that your partner cheated. While condoms can help mitigate the spread, HPV can still pop up – even during oral and anal sex. However, there’s a large possibility that you contracted it earlier in life without knowing it, because it lay dormant. So that sex you had at 18? You could have HPV 15 years later and only then find out about it

The same goes for your partner: they could have contracted it earlier, too. There are currently no tests for men (which, ugh), so if your partner is a male, he could have had it and never known, therefore passing it to you. And, once again: pap smears can come back as normal for years without detecting HPV. HPV can also clear up within one to two years as the immune system fights the virus, which can eventually lead to it disappearing without you even knowing you had it in the first place.


Ways To Lessen The Spread

I’m sorry to say that there is no medication on the market right now to treat HPV, but there are ways to avoid spreading it, be it to you or from you.

 1. Get the vaccine. While people are usually (and should be) vaccinated around 11 or 12, the vaccine is still effective up until 45 (just not quite as much as if you were an adolescent). It won’t prevent contraction from all 100+ types, but it especially targets those that can cause warts and cancer.

 2. Don’t share toys. Because it’s spread through sexual contact, sharing toys should be off-limits.

 3. Use condoms in every situation. While you should definitely be using them during intercourse (anyone can get it – even those with two vulvas can spread it to one another), you should also be using them during oral sex to prevent oral contact with the genitals.

 4. Be honest about your STI status. Before you have sex with someone, both of you should discuss your sexual health status. Even better: show each other your results. No matter what, use a condom, and get tested two weeks after. Be proactive with your health.

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Did you know that HPV could be spread when dormant? Have you received the shot? Let us know in the comments.


For More Articles On Sexual Health, Read These:

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