Settling unease about social disease 

Q: I am a 26-year-old hetero male, and I recently started hooking up with a new girl. She’s very cute and smart, and I’m really attracted to her. During a recent make-out session, she informed me that she has HPV, the STD that causes genital warts. From what I’ve read, condoms don’t necessarily mean you’re safe. I’ve been sexually active for a number of years, and I’ve had unprotected sex with other partners. Could I have HPV already? Can you please shed some light on this disease for me? I really want to have sex with this girl, but not at the risk of screwing up my penis for the rest of my life. —Worrying About Warts

A: HPV is not a big deal. Before an angry mob of Planned Parenthood educators gathers under my window, let me get this on the record: In the STD galaxy, HPV is a supernova. Twenty million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and every year 6 million more Americans contract one of the more than 100 different known strains of the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50 percent of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV infection at some point during their lives. By age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired HPV infection. Some strains of HPV — aka the human papillomavirus — can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, anus or penis; other strains can result in unpleasant and unsightly warts on cocks, balls, pussy flaps, asslips, etc., and condoms offer only minimal protection.

So where do I get off saying that HPV is no big deal? Because in the vast and overwhelming majority of cases, WAW, men and women with HPV show no symptoms, never develop a single genital wart, and don’t come down with cancer of the stanky stuff. And while we once thought that HPV was like herpes — i.e., once a person is infected he’s infected and infectious forever — we now know, as the wonks at the CDC put it, “… most people who become infected with HPV clear the infection on their own.”

So should you have sex with this girl? If you’ve been fucking other women without protection, well, odds are good that you’ve been exposed to HPV already. But even if you have sex with this girl and contract HPV, the odds that you will screw up your penis forever are slight. Sex always carries some risk, WAW, and when the risk is slight and the reward is great most adults go for it.

Finally, when I say that HPV isn’t that big a deal I don’t mean to imply that people shouldn’t seek treatment if they have warts or inform their sex partners if they know they’re infected. Women, in particular, have to be vigilant. If you’re a sexually active woman, assume you have HPV and get annual Pap tests. Every year in the United States more than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,100 women die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Most of these cancers are caused by “high-risk” strains of HPV, and early detection through Pap tests of cervical cancer saves lives. According to the CDC, most women who develop invasive cervical cancer have not had regular cervical cancer screenings. Don’t let that happen to you, ladies.


Q: I had a hysterectomy last year as a result of cervical dysplasia caused by HPV infection. My doctor said that I had had the virus for years, and that it generally takes that long to get to this point. I’ve never had the warts or anything. About two months ago I spent a week knocking boots with a friend. He knew I had had the hysterectomy, and he knew why. Some time later he slept with another girl. She discovered last week that she has cervical dysplasia. She accused me of spreading diseases. I explained that I didn’t think she could have gotten to that point in the space of a month, and that massive numbers of women have HPV without knowing about it. Did I give it to her? My doctor says no. My conscience says no. What’s the deal? —Elsewhere

A: Here’s another “no” for your collection, E: “It takes months to years to go from HPV infection to cervical changes,” says Deborah Oyer, medical director of Seattle’s Aurora Medical Services, which provides full-spectrum women’s health care. “I can’t imagine a woman getting HPV and in four weeks’ time progressing to cervical dysplasia,” which is the appearance of funky, potentially pre-cancerous cells on the cervix. “I would absolve Elsewhere,” Oyer continues, “but I can’t say she’s not contagious. If she still has HPV in her system, she could be contagious.”

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of HPV: Researchers have been hard at work on two vaccines for HPV, vaccines that could save thousands of women’s lives. In clinical trials the vaccines have prevented 90 percent of new HPV infections. Good news, huh? Not for the religious right. Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council told New Scientist magazine that “giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex.”

While the religious right’s war on gay people gets all the headlines, their war on straight rights gains ground daily. They’ve destroyed sex education in this country, undermined abortion rights and successfully prevented emergency contraception from being made available over the counter. Now they’re going to block the HPV vaccine. Why? Because the American Taliban would rather see sexually active women dead than vaccinated.

Hello, straight people? If you don’t want to live in a world where you need a license from the likes of Bridget Maher to have sex, pre-marital or otherwise, you had better start speaking up. Most of you seem content to merely rubberneck while gay people have the shit kicked out of us, and while that’s maddening, I suppose it’s understandable. It’s not your fight. But what explains your passivity when your own rights are being attacked?


Q: I contracted my first STD: gonorrhea. I got treated and I’m fine. My concern is about the guy who gave it to me. If he were just a random trick, I’d forget about it. But he’s actually a nice guy. Should I tell him? If so, any suggestions on how I go about telling him? —Gay Boy

A: There’s a chance this nice guy may not know he has gonorrhea, GB. If a guy’s cock is infected, he’ll usually experience a burning sensation during urination and discharge pus; if his ass is infected, his asshole will be coated with pus. But a man can have a gonorrhea infection in his throat without experiencing any symptoms at all; on rare occasions gonorrhea in the dick or butt is also asymptomatic. If he has gonorrhea and doesn't know it, he needs to seek treatment before he infects anyone else or before his infection spreads to his bloodstream and wreaks havoc on his joints, skin and heart. So tell him.

How do you tell him? Try this: "After we slept together I came down with gonorrhea and I'm pretty sure I got it from you. I'm not angry and I swear to God I won't gossip about this and I don't think any less of you as a person. I'm calling because I care about your health. Please go see a doctor."

If he really is a nice guy, GB, he'll thank you. If he reacts badly, well, then he's not a nice guy. But you can take comfort in the fact that you are.

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