Get Real! I Have HPV — Do I Have to Tell Him?


Gaby asks:

I
got HPV from my last sexual partner. I was wondering if I went to
donate blood would I still be able to? My new partner doesn’t know I
have this and I don’t want him to find out. By donating blood and
getting the results back will they be able to tell I have it?

Heather replies:

You
will need to tell new partners about a sexually transmitted infection
you have or have had, particularly one like human papillomavirus (HPV)
where condoms reduce the risks of transmission, but not as well as they
do for other kinds of infections.

Putting someone knowingly at risk of an infection — one that isn’t
yet curable and which men also can’t be tested accurately for yet –
without giving them a choice about if they WANT to take that risk isn’t
okay as far as I’m concerned. If your previous partner had HPV and knew
(and it’s totally possible he didn’t) and didn’t give YOU that choice,
that is obviously very unfortunate, but it doesn’t mean it’s okay for
you to do that to someone else. I’d also consider how nondisclosure has
an impact over time. If he gets it, particularly given how tough it is
to detect in men, he may have it silently. So, he’s not going to
disclose possible HPV on his part, putting any future partners of his
at an unknown risk, and on and on it goes, particularly if he does give
it to partners who either don’t get visible warts or pap smears
regularly to find out about HPV, or who have it, but in whom it goes
undetected. While some strains of HPV are a hindrance, but are known to
be pretty harmless, others are not: some strains can cause cervical,
anal or penile cancers.

HPV is very contagious, which is why it is so common, with around
5.5 million new genital HPV transmissions occurring in the United
States each year, representing about one-third of all new STD
infections, and an estimated 20 million men and women are thought to
have genital HPV at any given time. According to a 1997 American
Journal of Medicine article, nearly three in four Americans between the
ages of 15 and 49 have been infected with genital HPV at some point in
their life (AGI, HPV in the United States and Developing Nations: A Problem of Public Health or Politics?).

If you were diagnosed recently you most likely still have it now.
While it’s understood that many people can and do shed or suppress the
virus in time, we don’t really have a sound way of finding out who has
and who hasn’t yet. So, anyone diagnosed with a type of HPV needs to
consider themselves as always having it when it comes to current or
future partners. Your partner is at a substantial risk of contracting
it from you if the two of you engage in any genital sex, such as
vaginal intercourse, especially unprotected. Using latex barriers is
known to reduce the risk of transmission by around 70%.

If you aren’t at all sexually active yet, and are just getting to
know this guy, it’s fine to wait to tell him until you get closer to
that point in your relationship, but if you are getting to that point
or already sexually active, you do need to tell him. Choosing FOR him
to take that risk — rather than affording him the basic respect of
making that choice for himself — isn’t fair, even if it’s completely
understandable that you wish you didn’t have to tell him. Part of
informed consent when it comes to sex is the informed part: one partner
purposefully and knowingly keeping information from the other which
puts their health at risk, and then having sex with that partner really
isn’t with a partner who can be giving full, informed consent.

So if you just can’t deal with telling him, then you need not to be
sexually involved with him yet. Wait for that until you feel
comfortable enough with him to fill him in. If you already have been
sexually active, not telling him ASAP just isn’t an option in my book.
I know those are hardly easy conversations, especially with the crappy
attitude a lot of people have about STIs, and with how ashamed a person
can feel for having one, even though there’s no more shame in having
HPV than there is in having a cold. I also recognize that it can feel
like an unfair burden for women: since we’re the ones it can be most
often soundly identified in, the burden of disclosing often lies with
us. But that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

It’s also one of the kinds of tough conversations we simply need to
have if we’re going to be sexually active — of which there are usually
more than one — and when it comes to partners who we care for, and who
we know care for and respect us, that conversation also really isn’t
likely to be awful. What it may result in is simply your new partner
wanting to do some research before he makes up his mind about sex with
you, including seeing what the two of you can do to reduce your risks
if he does decide he’s okay with that risk and a sexual relationship.
No matter what he decides, if he’s a good guy who cares for you, he’s
not going to make you feel like a pariah about this: he’s going to be
supportive, even if he’s nervous or scared. If he handles it like a big
jerk…well, then you can say buh-bye and know you’ve dodged a bullet.
If he’s a jerk about this, he probably was going to be a jerk in other
respects in the future. Most of us are going to have an illness of some
kind at some point, and many are communicable: if we’re going to be in
contact with other people, we just need to accept that. As well,
someone who is sexually active but who doesn’t accept that STIs are
something everyone is at risk of, and which many people do or will have
– including them — isn’t being particularly realistic about sexual
partnership. Obviously, everyone would like to think and hope that it
won’t even happen to us (and for many people, it won’t, and for people
practicing safer sex, it’s much less likely), but if we’re going to be
sexually active we’ve got to recognize that it might and have some
level of preparation for dealing with STIs.

As far as your questions about blood, HPV isn’t transmitted through
blood, it’s transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. So, people with HPV
can and do still donate blood. Too, people doing blood drives are not
going to be testing your blood for HPV, since your blood doesn’t
present a problem per donation if you have HPV. If you haven’t had a
recent full STI screen (and if you’ve been sexually active, which it
sounds like you have, that’s something you need to do every year), you
need to get those screens from your gynecologist, general doctor and/or
sexual healthcare provider. Too, it’s particularly important when you
have HPV to get your yearly pap smears without fail, because HPV can
cause cervical cancer, so it’s vital to have your doctor keep an eye on
your cervix to be sure it has not for you.

Here are a couple of links for you with more information about HPV,
as well as another link or two that I think will help you sort this all
out.

Gaby wrote back and asked…

Thanks for that information. I don’t know how to tell
him yet but I do want to. I do have or had genital warts but I got
treatment and my doctor told me unless I had another outbreak it would
be a slight chance of me transmitting it to someone. I haven’t gotten
sexually active with this person yet and for a long while I don’t want
to for the same reason. I do feel ashamed of having HPV. I cant help
it, I feel dirty and I know that its not fair for me not to tell him
later on I just don’t know how to? How do you tell someone you have HPV
without scaring them away?

The information your doctor gave you, based on everything I understand about HPV, was questionable. According to most reliable health sources, treating warts may
reduce the risk of transmission, but we really just can’t say for sure
yet nor do we know how much that can reduce risks. Removal of warts now
is done mostly for the comfort of the person with warts. While having
warts — which are not always somewhere you can see, so you may have
another outbreak and not even know — does make it more likely to
transmit the virus, it can still be transmitted when they have been
treated and are no longer present or visible. When it comes to
determining how likely any kind of infection is to be spread, it’s also
a larger issue than just the virus itself: we have to take the health
and the immune system of the people we may transmit it to into account,
and that usually is an X-factor.

However, even if your doctor is correct and there is only a slight chance of transmission… there’s still a chance of transmission.

Whether the risk is high or low, it still is something you will need
to tell partners about if you are going to be a partner who is
considerate about their health. As I mentioned in my previous response
to you, wart strains are not known to present the cancer risks which
other strains do, but it still is something we want to tell partners
about, and still is a virus which could impact their health or quality
of life, something I likely don’t have to tell you.

I totally understand that disclosing this is scary and daunting. I
also understand feelings dirty, not because you are dirty — no more
than someone with a cold, flu or diabetes is, anyway — but because the
culture we live in still often attaches a stigma to sexually
transmitted or genital infections. But you aren’t dirty, and you don’t
have anything to be ashamed of: you’ve just been sick. People get sick.
A sexually transmitted infection, genital infection or reproductive
infection is really no different from any other kinds of illness. The
only reason our culture stigmatizes those particularly is because our
culture often still considers sex and genitals, period, as dirty. Me, I
think that’s pretty juvenile and something everyone should have grown
the heck up and gotten over by know, particularly when it’s so clear
how it negatively impacts people’s health, body image, sexuality and
overall well-being. However, while I’m certainly not the only one who
feels that way, some people do still feel or think otherwise, and we
appear to make pretty slow cultural progress in this regard. If I could
wave my magic wand and change that, I would.

Let’s be realistic: you might scare him away. It could happen. Some
people do panic in the face of sexually transmitted infections, even
though around one in every four people your age do have one, have had
one or will have one. However, any number of things might scare a
partner off, and for the most part, that’s just not something we can
control. If we want to have a healthy relationship, we’ve got to aim
for openness and honesty and accept that how another person reacts to
whatever it is we’re being honest about is out of our hands. That’s a
risk with intimate relationships, when HPV is an issue or not. But if
we’re not open and honest, we risk something bigger, which is having a
relationship whose our closeness and the quality of that relationship
is limited: where what’s supposed to be an intimate relationship is
only so intimate.

He might also choose — and that’s his right, as it would be yours
– to nix a sexual relationship with you because he doesn’t want to
take a know risk of contracting HPV. I know that would suck, and could
also likely leave you feeling rejected and pretty low, and there’s
nothing I can say about that which wouldn’t come off as glib or trite:
rejection always hurts, particularly when it’s about things we cannot
change and which are out of our control. Just know that if he does
reject you on this basis, there are plenty of other people — whether
they have HPV or not — who won’t.

He also might handle this fantastically and be very caring and
supportive. (Heck, he might also have HPV himself.) I think we have to
be just as open to and prepared for acceptance from people as we are
with rejection. Sure, he may be bummed out in some way, but there are
people in the wold who can manage being disappointed, and people who
choose to be with partners where some known level of risk exists,
whether that’s about HPV or whether it’s about a partner needing to be
away at school for a couple of years, a partner being uncertain about
if they want to have children, a partner having a terminal disease, a
partner having some kind of challenge in their lives or history which
may impact the relationship. When we choose to take some level of known
risk, it’s usually because the possible benefits — like being close to
someone we love — outweigh those risks.

Given the time lapse between your questions, I presume this
relationship is going well, which is why YOU are looking at taking
risks yourself. By now, you probably have some idea of how he’s going
to respond to this and if he’s someone who cares a lot for you. If he’s
not, you have more reasons than HPV to reconsider pursuing a
relationship with him further, including a sexual one where you’d be
disclosing this. If he is someone you know as caring and sensitive, I’d
suggest giving him the benefit of the doubt, and considering that he
might not only handle it well, but might also be someone who could give
you some of the support and acceptance you need right now.

Again, how soon you bring this up is up to you, particularly since
you’re not yet putting him at any risk right now. I’d base that on if
and when you two start talking about sex, and based on how close you
two are at this point in time. Per the how-to when you do bring it up,
I’d suggest starting by just being very plain: you were diagnosed with
a genital wart strain of HOV which you acquired from a previous
partner. You have been treated, and know this kind of strain to present
inconveniences, but not major health risks for most people. You can
share some of the information I have shared here with you with him: the
facts about HPV, how to reduce the risk of transmitting HPV, how common
it is. I’d voice your worries and feelings about sharing the
information, and make clear that while you certainly understand if he
feels worried about this himself, or has some troubles dealing with it,
that no matter what choices he decides he wants to make, you need him
to be caring and supportive in talking about and dealing with this with
you. And then I’d just talk it all out together.

Mostly, I’d implore you not to let HPV ruin your life, your
self-image or your relationships. It doesn’t have that capacity all by
itself: it can only do that if you approach it in a way which limits
your quality of life. It’s always going to be scary in some respect to
get close to people, no matter what we’re bringing to the table, so
that’s not going to change, nor is that part even really about HPV. We
will always have flaws or difficulties a partner will eventually
discover and which they may or may not accept. And if you have HPV, and
do want sexual relationships in your life, as most people do, you’ll
have to get to this point eventually. Try not to project your own
feelings about all of this unto other people who may not feel like you
do: not everyone thinks it makes someone dirty.

Only you know if this disclosure and a sexual relationship is
something you’re ready for right now, and it’s up to you when you are.
Just don’t let HPV keep you from the good stuff and become something
that is a much bigger problem than it actually is.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Follow Heather Corinna on twitter: @Scarleteen

  • invalid-0

    I think one of the most beautiful scenes of love in a movie is Playing by Heart when anglea jolie’s character is in love with a young man who has Aids–and they talk about ways to love eachother with less risk. When someone truly loves you you can make it work.If he is scared off then he is not the one for you.

  • invalid-0

    I have had HPV, and it is hard to tell your partner, but in my experience they have all been ok with it. I just give them the facts about it, and explain to them that most sexually active people have it (so he might already have a strain or two – it is hard to detect in guys unless they get a strain that causes warts), and that mine has always been symptomless. Wearing a condom can reduce the risk, so he needs to have the choice to wear one if he wants, although I’m pretty sure I got mine while wearing a condom. some guys i’ve been with have preferred to wear a condom the whole relationship, but the current one i’ve been with for a few years and since i either don’t have HPV or it is undetectable at the moment, we just rely on my BC. most people understand there is a risk having sex and will still be willing to have sex with you. they will appreciate you not keeping this information from them.

  • invalid-0

    It is so sad to hear that another woman has HPV.

    I think Gaby is brave to share her story.

    I hope other women ( and men ) will read her comments and understand that having multiple partners has risk and that STIs lower quality of life and sometimes even cost a person their fertility or their lives.

    I hope her story will help more people choose to wait till marriage and not put themselves at unnecessary risk.

    Good luck to Gaby.

  • invalid-0

    Nor does it protect against problems with fertility nor does it make you immortal nor does it guarantee a high quality of life. You still go through all the risks everyone else does when you have sex, even if you are married.

    my quality of life was not lowered at all due to HPV or multiple partners.

    And some people are not legally allowed to marry their partners, you’d have them never have sex at all??

  • invalid-0

    I think this is one of the most interesting websites I’ve ever come across. It is very educative and addresses a practical question. I like the comment above (7:22pm, August 22), which brings a very practical solution to the problem; monogamous sexual relationships. The writer implies that this kind of relationship is most exemplified by what happens in marriage. I’m surprised that the subsequent post (7:30pm) seeks to trivialize this solution by saying marriage is not an answer to polygamous/polyandrous sexual relationships. The writer even insinuated that denial of the right of gays to marry makes this impracticable.

    In as much as I wouldn’t want to get into arguments about human morality, I think monogamy and tightly-regulated sexual activity are major requirements for the survival of any species. You can go and find out why dogs or horses will not breed out of their breeding seasons! If, as we now know, 75% of people are infected with HPV which is strictly sexually transmitted, imagine what would happen if a STI emerges that has the capacity to kill like the Ebola virus. It would be worse than the plague. And I can assure you that type of virus will come at some point, either created by nature or made in a lab. The simple solution to this problem is: keep your thighs tightly closed, open them to as few people as possible!

  • heather-corinna

    I’d just like to make clear that the problem GABY is having is not solved with waiting until marriage nor with having only one partner who has also never had another partner, either.

    Limiting the number of sexual partners is a part of safer sex practice which is very widely recognized as, indeed, helpful when it comes to preventing and reducing the spread of infections and disease.  That doesn’t require marriage, mind you, and historically, marriage itself (rather than monogamy) has not helped prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections, but it also certainly doesn’t exclude it.  What that commentor appeared to be pointing out was that marriage is not an option for everyone and that it is monogamy or limiting partners which helps, which can occur with or without marriage.

     

    However, Gaby’s problem is how to inform a future partner about an STI she already has acquired.

     

    I mention that even though it is obvious in part because a directive to keep one’s "thighs tightly closed," (which also seems to only be one for women about intercourse: after all men often have intercourse with their thighs closed, and intercourse also isn’t the only activity with STI risks) isn’t helpful for someone like Gaby with this particular problem she is having.  It just sounds like an admonishment.

  • invalid-0

    Hi Heather,
    Thanks for that last comment and sorry for the distraction brought by my previous comment (9:18am). I really didn’t mean to derail the discussion. I’m just amazed (bewildered, I should say) that we’ve now come to a point in our civilization where our very survival is threatened by sex! And we all seem to have concluded that there’s nothing we can do about the urge to have sex, sometimes at all costs. In any case, that’s another discussion.

    As for Gaby, knowing fully well that this may not be her last sexual partner or that she will not be his last sexual partner, it is absolutely obligatory that she tells him about it. However, that’s not to say the guy is also not currently harboring the same or some other STIs! In fact she has a legal responsibility to inform her partner of her “known” STI status. Failure to do this legally makes her liable to assault occasioning actual bodily harm (see Dica, R vs Crown, 2003) should they have sex, especially if the man is infected and transmits the infection to his subsequent sexual partner who goes on to develop HPV-related cervical cancer. She wouldn’t be liable if she didn’t know her status. This is a new area that totally modified the case of Clarence, R vs Crown of 1888 where an infected husband (who was aware of his status) was deemed not liable for infecting his wife with gonorrhea. Well, you can see that millionaires will be made through cases like these in the future!

    I believe what is missing here is a moment of self revelation on both sides, something that is a fundamental requirement for a true and committed relationship to develop. Gaby should simply let this guy know that she’s had a few partners in the past and found out she got infected with HPV because she relied on BC alone, without using condoms. She should then use this as a basis to insist that she has no plans to do anything with this new guy without a condom, because she loves him and wouldn’t want him to transmit the bug to another lady in the future, in case the relationship doesn’t work out. This is a test of responsibility that results from mental maturity. The way this is presented may actually strengthen their relationship rather than cause any strain. Afterall, isn’t death the greatest test of love?

  • heather-corinna

    Thing is, we’ve had plenty of times during history when socially communicable diseases have presented very real threats to us as a whole and it had nothing to do with sex.

     

    So, this really isn’t primarily about sex, in my book, what you’re talking about when it comes to the threat of disease. It’s primarily about human contact. When we’re talking about STIs, yes, we are most often talking about sexual contact, and we address that, but positing that we are going to be extinct because of sex per disease and that we can assure our safety per disease primarily by sexual behaviors….eh. I have a parent who is an epidemiologist now and who certainly doesn’t feel that way, even after years of working with children with AIDS in the 80′s.

     

    I also don’t agree that we’ve all made the conclusions you say we have: while yes, I think most of us agree that we know most people have a desire or urge for sex, and that’s unchangeable, from a reproductive heallth standpoint, our urges only have so much to do with our behaviors. We can adapt our behaviors, which I believe we are in agreement with on all sides of the fence. That just has to do with more than being married or not and always has.

     

    Obviously, I agree that Gaby and anyone with an STI should tell a partner: I think that’s very clear in my response to her.

     

    (FYI? We don’t know that Gaby has had a few partners in the past. She has only mentioned having one previous partner: and she didn’t need to have more than one to contract HPV. We also do not know that she did not use condoms. With HPV in particular, while it is less likely, many people still contract or transmit it who use/d latex barriers. You seem to be making a lot of guesses about Gaby here that may or may not have any basis in fact. The only information we have about her is the information she gave me.)

  • invalid-0

    Sorry, it appears I’m not communicating well here! My response is not to Gaby per se. Gaby is only a representation of what is possible in our world. Gaby is definitely a matured and honest individual who is concerned about the effect her situation may have on the health of her partner. She knows what to do and has probably done it after all the excellent suggestions in the postings before mine. I was just trying to use this case as a focus to address the social responsibilities of a partner with STIs. Believe me, you will never realize how far into the world the words on these pages are reaching! That is the reason I applaud people who take out some time to set up a blog like this. I hope someone out there finds all the needed info from both sides of the fence.

    Well, talking about the fence. I didn’t come on here to assume the position of a holy man: we all know what happened to those who did in the past! I’m also human. I have sexual urge, more frequently than I would like! So, I’m not trying to sermonize and admonish a virtual congregation. I’m really very sorry if I appeared to have done that above, that was not my intention. But I do dream and envision a future where I could send my daughter or son to school without having to worry about STIs. And a future where a wife would be able to go to sleep with both eyes closed without thinking of whose skirt her husband could be lifting in the office during night shifts! Again, that should be a topic for another thread.

    Now, concerning diseases and sex. I agree that sex has never looked as dangerous to civilization as I view it to be to ours. And I like your parent’s idea about HIV/AIDS. However, having worked in the same field for over a decade and seen families completely wiped out by AIDS in an anti-retroviral-free society, I got very afraid of the disease burden that comes with sex and STIs!

    Yes, diseases are transmitted and maintained in society through social contacts: something we view as interactions between the biotic and abiotic components of an ecosystem. I also want to draw your attention to the fact that the ecosystem is divided into subsystems which have specific characteristics with implications for the development of diseases. However, the most important, direct and intimate type of social contacts is sex.

    Unlike the ecological subsystems you see in the airways or gut, the reproductive tract is not immunologically designed to withstand repeated challenges by infectious agents. In fact, I can say that with some confidence, the immunological barrier of the reproductive tract (male or female) is not well equipped to handle the challenge associated with the repeated inoculation of different antigenic proteins found in body fluids of changing sexual partners, not to talk of infectious agents.

    In conclusion, what I am trying to say is that the reproductive tract is an immunologically weak link to the whole body. Exposing this highly vulnerable site of the most intimate of social contacts to infectious agents is something that should be prevented with vigor. This means our best bet is to be universally monogamous. But you and I know this is like asking everyone in the world to walk on water across the atlantic!

  • invalid-0

    Sorry, it appears I’m not communicating well here! My response is not to Gaby per se. Gaby is only a representation of what is possible in our world. Gaby is definitely a matured and honest individual who is concerned about the effect her situation may have on the health of her partner. She knows what to do and has probably done it after all the excellent suggestions in the postings before mine. I was just trying to use this case as a focus to address the social responsibilities of a partner with STIs. Believe me, you will never realize how far into the world the words on these pages are reaching! That is the reason I applaud people who take out some time to set up a blog like this. I hope someone out there finds all the needed info from both sides of the fence.

    Well, talking about the fence. I didn’t come on here to assume the position of a holy man: we all know what happened to those who did in the past! I’m also human. I have sexual urge, more frequently than I would like! So, I’m not trying to sermonize and admonish a virtual congregation. I’m really very sorry if I appeared to have done that above, that was not my intention. But I do dream and envision a future where I could send my daughter or son to school without having to worry about STIs. And a future where a wife would be able to go to sleep with both eyes closed without thinking of whose skirt her husband could be lifting in the office during night shifts! Again, that should be a topic for another thread.

    Now, concerning diseases and sex. I agree that sex has never looked as dangerous to civilization as I view it to be to ours. And I like your parent’s idea about HIV/AIDS. However, having worked in the same field for over a decade and seen families completely wiped out by AIDS in an anti-retroviral-free society, I got very afraid of the disease burden that comes with sex and STIs!

    Yes, diseases are transmitted and maintained in society through social contacts: something we view as interactions between the biotic and abiotic components of an ecosystem. I also want to draw your attention to the fact that the ecosystem is divided into subsystems which have specific characteristics with implications for the development of diseases. However, the most important, direct and intimate type of social contacts is sex.

    Unlike the ecological subsystems you see in the airways or gut, the reproductive tract is not immunologically designed to withstand repeated challenges by infectious agents. In fact, I can say that with some confidence, the immunological barrier of the reproductive tract (male or female) is not well equipped to handle the challenge associated with the repeated inoculation of different antigenic proteins found in body fluids of changing sexual partners, not to talk of infectious agents.

    In conclusion, what I am trying to say is that the reproductive tract is an immunologically weak link to the whole body. Exposing this highly vulnerable site of the most intimate of social contacts to infectious agents is something that should be prevented with vigor. This means our best bet is to be universally monogamous. But you and I know this is like asking everyone in the world to walk on water across the atlantic!

  • heather-corinna

    I said what I did about Gaby because in your reply you said what you did about Gaby, such as stating she had had a few partners when she had not told me that at all.

     

    I am well aware of how many people read here and at Scarleteen (where our traffic is far greater than at RH).  I agree with you that I’d love for people not to have to worry about STIs, but I doubt that will ever be the case since, as with other infections and diseases before and many we still have now, it never really has been before so far as we know. Syphilis, for example, has been around for thousands of years and was thought to have first been spread through sheep. 

     

    I won’t say I’m so much <i>afraid</i> of the disease burden with many kinds of sex — and personally, I’m less so since I’ve seen full well that despite a lifetime of having multiple partners (and more than most people) that safer sex practices have worked incredibly well for me — but by all means, it’s important and considerable and is a large part of why I do the work I do and do it the way I do it, which includes being as inclusive as I can and filling people in on ALL the ways they can protect themselves, not just one.

     

    What I know in terms of just telling people to pick one partner for the whole of a life isn’t really about asking people to walk on water, but that it is not something most people just don’t do and have rarely done through all of history, and also is something which isn’t always even wanted by many people.  After all, our decisions about sex and relationships have to do with more than just our health or public health, and sex also potentially offers us more than just disease or reproduction. Some people will choose one kind of potentially negative risk in order to have the possibility of positives they feel outweigh those risks, and I don’t see it as my place to tell anyone else what they want in their lives or what is best for them in the whole of their lives because it can be best for them in one arena or one respect. For some people, lifelong monogamy with a partner they care for and love who also have not had partners themselves isn’t what’s possible or likely: for some, lifelong monogamy just isn’t what they want to doesn’t feel right to them emotionally or interpersonally.  (Suffice it to say, as a rape survivor, I also know we do not always get to choose what we are exposed to or when our genitals are engaged by someone else.)

     

    I also know that we have more than one way of reducing the spread of disease and for those who choose to have more than one partner (and whose one partner has made the same choices) we have methods — like consistent latex barriers use — which we know and have proven work.  So, we can inform people about ALL of the ways we know to reduce their risks — which includes monogamy or limiting partners, but is not limited to that, nor does that alone always provide complete protection (for instance, most folks get oral herpes nonsexually as children, and that can present risks of genital transmission for couples who have always been and always remain exclusive).

  • amanda-marcotte

    You probably have HPV.  Most people do.  Yes, you are a dirty, dirty slut.  Have you ever had a wart, even on your hand?  Guess what?  You are a dirty slut.

     

    It’s the sort of downside of the invention of Gardasil that all this has come up.  Before this vaccine, most people were completely oblivious to the existence of HPV.  Most women who got called back for repeat Pap smears weren’t told they had it, lest they erroneously think, like our friend here, that they’re "dirty". Most people had it and didn’t know it.  It wasn’t, and isn’t, a big deal.  

     

    Except that it causes cervical cancer in a percentage of women. And warts aren’t that fun, either.  So we have a vaccine, which is great!  Everyone eligible should get vaccinated.  But I wish that could happen without making 80% of the adult population feel like they’re dirty people.

  • amanda-marcotte

    Is that it would mean that the vast majority of people would have to give up on love by the time they’re 19.

     

    Those first sexual relationships rarely work out, though most people want them to at the time.  

     

    If we want marriage, or happiness, or even children to exist, we should let go of the ideal of one partner for life.  Realistically, that would mean one partner at 17 and then 60 years of celibacy.

  • heather-corinna

    We don’t know that Gaby had multiple partners (and I find it very odd I have to keep saying that when what she gave us of her sexual history is right here for all of us to read, and when we also know that a person does not have to have multiple partners to wind up with an STI).

     

    We only know that she had ONE previous partner who happened to have HPV, and who may not have even told her he had partners before her. 

     

    Having ANY sexual partners presents STI risks, be that one, five or fifty. 

  • invalid-0

    Hmmm….., looks like we’ve fully digressed here! But then, why don’t we just do it? I’ve gone to your other blog on Scarleteen and greatly appreciate the work you’re doing. I think the website will go a long way to help teenagers navigate the ever-changing world of sex.

    However, I want to quickly say that those that promote abstinence or monogamy should not be demonized or made to feel this option is patently outdated when talking about STIs in the 21st century. I understand the problem with rape; statistics say it happens every 6 minutes in North America. Who knows, it may even be worse in several parts of the world. This is a clear example of where people have no choice about if, when and with whom they would have sex.

    Nonetheless, in situations where there is choice, which is true in majority of cases, I think it is also helpful to promote the choice of monogamy. I’m just turned off by the seeming belief of the majority that abstinence is not a workable option and no attempt should be made to even teach and promote it. It is my belief that having multiple sexual partners, where there is a choice, is not how the reproductive tract was designed to be used. I agree that in this day and age it is almost impossible, like Amanda said above, to insist on monogamy.

    However, I think it is a cultural thing. I don’t consider myself too old, maybe I am! But I’m just 40 and my wife of 13 years is 39. Neither she, nor I, had sex until we got married. Of course there were opportunities to have sex as teenagers and as 2 consenting adults planning to get married. But the culture I grew in, my little community within a community, frowned upon pre-marital/extra-marital sex. We’re probably antiquated but I know several couples from the same culture who are my age or even older and have exactly the same experience.

    I know it is difficult to do that today, with the all pervasive media and their influence on culture. But I also think it is defeatist to just promote safe sex to teens without putting the same enthusiasm into promoting abstinence or monogamy. Maybe my experience would have been impossible if I grew up under the same kind of media we have today, and the same approach to teaching sex education. Why don’t we concentrate on teaching the meaning of relationships and how to make them stable as a component of our sex education classes? I would rather teach relationships than focus on how to get a 17-year-old girl to reach orgasm!

    Whatever the case, I believe I walked on water up till now! But I’m humble enough to admit I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or in 20 years. Like I said before, I often have a strong sexual urge but find fulfillment in my wife. I daily pray and hope it will continue that way. While I’m not saying my experience should be the gold standard, I’m asking that we should agree it is possible and promote this possibility as one way to stop STIs!

  • heather-corinna

    I’m 100% sure I’ve never demonized anyone in that respect.

     

    What I personally admonish is fear-based education or abstinence approaches which shame anyone and/or include often knowingly inaccurate information about sexuality, birth control or safer sex.  I am not supportive of those things for a multitude of reasons, including that it leaves sexually active teens in the lurch, lies on purpose, AND also keeps information from young people they will very likely need as adults (and not easily get anywhere then) even if they DO wait on sex until later in life (and I’m not going to say marriage because again, I’m an inclusive educator, and not everyone can get married yet or wants to).

     

    In fact, I’ve a piece up about celibacy at Scarleteen for many years that has been widely appreciated, and we talk to those choosing to abstain and offer them support in that choice daily.  You should also know that if you haven’t had a look at them, pretty much ALL comprehensive school sex education programs are abstinence-plus and have been for quite some time: in other words, they do endorse delaying sexual activity (though without being exclusive or using relgion or shame), but also provide information on BC and safer sex.  It sounds to me like the idea you have about a lot of modern sex ed might be off-kilter.  Same goes for your idea of what is promoted per safer sex with public health programs: I have yet to see a one which did not include delyaing sex and/or limiting the number of partners.  And most of them DO include all kinds of relationship negotiation and management as stable components.

     

    However, I think that we can be supprtive of waiting on sex for those who want to do that and ALSO just as supportive when it comes to providing information about safer sex and contraception (or sexual response, or relationship management, the works).  The two are not mutually exclusive, and those choosing abstinence now may also have use for safer sex practices if and when they DO decide to become sexually active.  I also always incude limiting partners in the threefold approach I take to safer sex and always have, and I’m no less enthusiastic about that.  I think we also can talk to 17-year-old girls who are having a hard time reaching orgasm (and I’d implore you not to diminish that: you could probably have an orgasm with masturbation at 17, after all, and had you not been able to, that may well have distressed you.  You probably also knew what parts of your sexual anatomy were most pleasurable, while many girls don’t get any of that ifnormation — they are usually taught about their anatomy as reproductive only) and still include all kinds of other aspects of sexuality education — which includes talking about relationships, which we do many times a day — especially when you consider that masturbation is 100% safe.  None of these things need be either/ors.  Lastly, bear in mind that my model as an eductor, both with sex ed and when I was a general teacher is student-directed activity.  In other words, I answer what they ask me.  I give them the information they are asking for, and add on what I think is also needed and useful.  I provide what they seem to express needing most and teach additional things still within that framework.

     

    In terms of the reality of those choosing abstinence, one big generational divide is that the average age of first marriage is around 26-27 now, which is considerably older than in previous generations, while puberty is happening earlier and earlier, especially in girls. So, no: most people are not going to wait something like a 15-year+ delay from sexual development until partnered sex.  That doesn’t mean we can’t be supportive of those who want to or will, but as THE sole or big prescription when it comes to safer sex, in the interest of both public health and respecting people’s individual choices, it’s not so sound.  And if we want to be inclusive and not leave a lot of people out in the cold, stating all they can do or the best thing they can do is already a choice they’re past making both isn’t helpful and is also pretty hurtful.

     

    I am, for the record, about your same age.  Pushing waiting until heterosexual marriage as my ONLY way to prevent infections sure wouldn’t have worked for me, as a rape survivor,  as a queer youth, as someone who was sexually active already.  If I had been given that and no other information, I would have been seriously screwed (and I also was smart enough that I would have known I was being intentionally screwed).  I also have never had any desire to get married for political reasons and will probably never have that desire: that has never meant I couldn’t live very protected from STIs, even being sexually active.

    Do also bear in mind that the majority of teens, young adult and adults who come to me for counsel are already sexually active by the time we see them and often want to remain so.  At Scarleteen in polls, usually around 25% of our users do not report yet being sexually active (and as I said, we support that choice completely, and often give a lot of pep talks to those users when they meet with nonsupport), but the other 75% are.  If I were to say "wait until marriage," not only would many of them stop hearing anything else I said (which is what they tend to report doing when they are approached that way) if I did say anything else, I’d also have them leave without the information on safer sex, birth control, their anatomy, their relationships…all of what they were asking me for, and the information they need to do the best they can to be as safe as possible with the choices they are making.

     

    Long story short?  I don’t think we — or most people, really — are not already in agreement that delaying sex until a person decides on one, longtime exclusive partner is a very viable and sound option as one way to prevent STIs, and I’m not sure where you’re even seeing that divide here.

     

     

  • http://heatherleila3.blogspot.com/search/label/public%20health invalid-0

    Waiting until you’re married doesn’t preclude you from getting an STI. You are only resposible for yourself, and while it’s important to trust your husband…lots of women, every year, get STIs from their husbands because they cheat, or had previous partners before the marriage. Don’t try to say that marriage is a cure-all for STIs.

    So much pressure on women, too, to stay clean. Go to some men’s site and tell them to stop having so much sex. Don’t make women feel guilty for getting a disease that is so rampant your very fiance might have it.

  • invalid-0

    Thank you very much, Heather, for taking the time to chat with me. It’s been a very enlightening day! I spent some time to go through your blogosphere and get information about you and what you do. Although we may not agree 100% on some issues from what I can see from your profile and interests (tell me 2 people who actually agree on anything these days!), I greatly appreciate your hardwork. I know it is not easy to go one-on-one with every creature that shows up on your blog. I find it rather unusual that you would find the time to do it and honestly love you for that. If only we could have more people with the same type of passion and dedication I know there is a great chance for the next generation. Yes, like you said, people describe you as a queer youth. I wouldn’t say that. I believe you are unique and if in the end you could use that uniqueness to advance the progress of the present and coming generations and get them disentangled from the web of the spindoctors of our time, you would have attained your full potential.

    Lest I forget, I hope you realized I’m not trying to propose or support an “abstinence only” sex education program. It has never worked and it will not work! Even in my community where many of us ended up not having sex before marriage it is still very difficult for me to explain how it happened. I honestly don’t know how it happened and can’t claim stamp points for making it happen! However, what I know is that there was a positive environment to support such choice. I sometimes ask myself whether I would have survived if the pressure then was close to that of the internet age!

    I hope we will be able to talk more some other time, especially about how to harness human uniqueness towards attaining specific public health goals. Well, I hope you realized you just sealed an online relationship!

  • heather-corinna

    Hey, I always appreciate openness to an exchange of ideas, and really like exchanges like this.  I also appreciate the kudos: thanks!

     

    And no, just because I’m queer (when I say that, I simply mean I’m not heterosexual: wasn’t when I was young, still am not now) certainly doesn’t mean I can’t do things of value.  In fact, for me and in the realm I work in, I think in many ways it uniquely suits me to the open mind I need to have for the work I do and the diversity of human sexuality.

     

    Just FYI, I think plenty of the youth choosing to wait are doing just fine.  Given, in that age group, someone will always find a way to taunt you for SOMETHING, and that is one realm where young people can get targeted (in the same way that not waiting can be an easy target), but there are some good supports out there, and I’d also say that in many ways, young adults these days often seem to be more open to differtences than a lot of adults are.  I’m actually pretty impressed and awestruck some days to see how open and welcoming they’ll be to each other in a safe space amid diversity. I’ve witnessed really beautiful, totally supportive conversations amoung very divergent youth over the years that are one of my favorite parts of my job.

  • invalid-0

    It’s great to be able to have these exchanges. Of course I know you’re not heterosexual and so are described as queer. In spite of that, I still see you as very unique and I’m excited by your passion to fight STIs headlong. I really don’t care whether people are gay, curved or straight! It is annoying to see that people will be classified (or classify themselves) because of what they do for less than 3 minutes a day (if we add together how many hours people actually have sex in a year and divide by 365).

    I also know that you are a feminist and gay activist. I have nothing to say about that side of you because I see feminists (or maybe masculinists if there is anything like that), gay activists, racists, and religious fundamentalists (and things like that) as people with borderline schizophrenia. I believe I’m too intelligent and highly educated to engage in any argument with such people! For example, it would be silly of me to run around saying gays should not marry because I’m a married heterosexual (whatever the word actually means). Marriage is more than two people being joined together by a paper. The paper is just an evidence. Marriage is what happens between those two people after the paper. It amazes me that people, both gay and straight, cannot get beyond a piece of paper and legal intricacies when they attempt to understand marriage. It is exactly the same issue when people understand the mechanics of sex and then go ahead to think they know about sex! These are concepts that transcend academic knowledge. Most married people don’t even understand what marriage means; the reason there are so many divorces. It is plain stupid to fight about these issues.

    However, if your activities are geared toward stopping STIs, which appears to be the case, you’re always my girl! If you believe turning all teenage girls into temporary lesbians is a way to do it, it’s fine with me as long as there are no STIs. What I know is that nature will eventually take its course: that’s the reason some priests eventually end up as husbands!

    Well……..em, sorry, I didn’t plan to go this far!

  • heather-corinna

    …that smart as I am, now and then I just don’t see it coming when someone is about to seriously patronize me, even though it seems obvious in hindsight.

     

    And that’s really all I’ve got to say to this.  

  • invalid-0

    Patronize you? Did you read between the lines at all? I’m not into patronizing or condescending. In case you didn’t notice, I’m Canadian. I live in a country where we understand diversity and focus on what is important. I saw what is important in what you do and applauded it. But then you introduced the other issue, which to me is unimportant, and I decided to chip in what I believe. I know it hurts when beliefs clash. But that doesn’t mean I appreciate you any less as a person. I’m sorry to have hurt you by expressing my belief on activism when it comes to certain issues. I’m honestly sorry and hope you will forgive me for that.

    However, if you want my take on those issues, we can discuss them in a very intellectually acceptable manner; devoid of politics and preconceived assumptions. That’s the reason I like your style in the sex education department. You want to take things ad libitum, an approach that ensures deep intellectual discourse. If we could take the other issues in the same way, I assure you that you will enjoy a rare moment of intellectual intercourse. And I’m also very open to your views; I always come with a clean slate, although that’s sometimes difficult to see.

    Once again, I’m sincerely sorry if my last post sounded quite offensive. I never intended it to be that way. I thought I had known you a bit and could throw down my guard when discussing with you. Sorry, my mistake!

    • invalid-0

      I’m Canadian. I live in a country where we understand diversity and focus on what is important, please!!!

      In Canada the only diversity you have is White and French. Your biggest crime is when somebody didn’t eat there french fries with gravy. Canadian’s get up on there high horse and preach how we all get along and we try to understand our fellow country men. No your worse then anyone else. The only people that are different are the french and they want to break away from you. Canada is just a 2nd or 3rd rate United States. Everything you have we have something better.
      I’m sorry I love to fish and hunt and like to come up to Canada once a year or every other year, but Canada Sucks. You have no Diversity, it cold in the summer for christ sake. The only thing that is better in Canada is there medical insurnce, but thats not going to get you a hand job in the parking lot behind McDonalds at 2:30 in the morning. You want Diversity take a trip to New York, LA, Miami, San Antonio and see some real culture.

  • invalid-0

    It is extremely disheartening to hear of a person who at such an age has had multiple sex partners. God intended for one man and one woman to be married and then engage in the sexual act to bring one more soul into this lonely world. It is also so sad to hear how abortions are so rampant, when we should be protecting the most vulnerable of our society, the unborn.

  • heather-corinna

    Thing is, we do not all share the same spiritual beliefs.

     

    I’m not sure why that has to be said here so often, since the diversity in religion and spirituality in the world should make that patently obvious.  I also don’t know why I have to keep reminding commentors here that not all of us are heterosexual people,  nor people who have any interest in being married, and that it’s seriously debasing to have to face heterosexism and homophpbia here, of all places.

     

    And even for those who do, you should know that not everyone draws the same conclusions, nor behaves — sexually or otherwise, including some of the many commenting here to push their religious beliefs — in alignment with whatevertheir religious doctrine is all the time.  

     

    But what’d really be nice?  Is if every time someone here commented tellig us what God thinks, they’d just go ahead, fully commit and sign their post, "God" instead of "Anonymous."  Because as far as I’m concerned, if you aren’t actually God, you’ve got no place telling me or anyone else what he/she/it says about squat.