Dear Em & Lo: Do I Have to Tell My Partner I Have HPV?

hand_mouthphoto by demi-brooke

Last week, Dr. Kate kindly answered a woman’s question about whether or not she had to tell her partner she had HPV. This week, we’re taking it upon ourselves to answer the same question — and we’re taking no prisoners:

In a word, YES!

Everyone has the right to know what they’re getting into when they’re getting into bed with you. It doesn’t matter how pervasive an STD is, how inconsequential it might turn out to be, or how likely it is that you’ll eventually get it (or that you already have it) — everyone deserves to know the truth. So if you know you’ve got something, you’ve got to come clean (as it were). Fucking is not a right, it’s a privilege, and you’ve got to earn that privilege via honest communication about your bod and where it’s been. We’re pretty sure the NY Times ethicist would have our back on this.

If more people fessed up to their sexual health status, then we’d all know a little more about the pervasive STDs that affect us — and probably not be so freaked out. Knowledge is power, and power is sexy. The more we all talk about it, the more it will become clear that it’s not only dirty, promiscuous, evil people who get STDs (such a tired yet stubborn cliche) — many totally cool, super nice and very good-looking people get sexually transmitted infections, too.

Unfortunately, honest communication isn’t always the quickest route to sex or even love. So people get scared into concealing an STD out of fear of loneliness (or horniness). Don’t fall into this trap: Even though it doesn’t feel like it when you first get diagnosed with something, you will have sex again. You will fall in love and you’ll probably get married, have a couple kids, the whole nine.

And please, if any of you happen to be on the receiving end of a conversation like this, be cool about it. Honest Abes should be rewarded for their behavior — not with unprotected genital-to-genital contact, natch, but at least with a polite, considerate, and sympathetic response. Of course, it’s your right to walk away (just don’t run). But know this: Many STDs are either curable, or at least manageable. So if you choose to turn your back, you could be turning it on your one true soulmate and walking into a future of eternal solitude.

True dat,
Em & Lo


  1. Just found out I have HPV at 54 yo. Have had the same partner
    For 3 years.
    I am going to have a loving but serious conversation
    With him today.
    I have only slept with him and he lives overseas. That is confirmation enough that I did not give it to myself.
    I will be calm and asked the right questions,
    I will also guide him to information to learn more.
    Yes, I am angry about what he has transferred but anger
    Does nothing for healing and communication.

    So if he chooses not to listen or let those partners know I have done
    My job in being honest and caring for another human being.
    Hopefully we can work through it.
    Also, everyone out there… Wearing a condom does not alleviate you from the virus. It can be transmit from genital contact even with the scrotum.

    Hope each of us finds our guidance with our individual spirits in all of this.

  2. Absolutely just this posting is enough to ask for a clean bill of health b-4 even considering having sex with a new or non commital person

  3. Oh and in men, strains 6 and 11 also cause warts, but strains 16 and 18 do nothing in 99.9% of men. If you are a man and have 16 and 18, however, you will likely cause abnormal paps in any future partners so it is VERY important to tell these partners to go to the gynecologist every year to prevent progression to cervical cancer. For a clue if you have 16 and 18, look to past partners and ask them if they have had abnormal paps. And BTW, the HPV test CAN be performed in men it just ISN’T because it is completely unnecessary and medically irrelevant. You will not find many doctors who will perform a test for the sole purpose of figuring out who gave what to whom.

  4. 80% of sexually active people have HPV. Although it is transmitted sexually, that does not make it an STD as most of the strains of HPV do not cause “disease” at all. If you do not have warts or abnormal paps it is really not necessary to tell a partner because… TADA… you don’t have the strains 16 and 18 that cause cervical cancer or 6 and 11 that cause warts. I’m assuming the letter writer has an abnormal pap because that is the only medical reason for getting tested for HPV in the first place. In this case, I would tell him that you may have a strain that transmits cervical cancer, and encourage him to tell all his past and future girlfriends to visit the doctor once a year to prevent the disease. I would then keep your own appoitments.

    1. No, it is not correct to say that 80% of people have the disease. The statistic is: “80% of people will contract HPV *at some point* in their lives”. This does not mean 80% of sexually active people have HPV. The figure is much lower.

      Compare with the following statements: “100% of people alive today will die at some point”. This is not the same as “100% of people alive today are dead”.

  5. Dear Em and Lo,
    What is your understanding of men’s ability to detect HPV in their own body? Years ago, a woman I was dating at that time tested positive for HPV. She was convinced I was diseased and gave it to her. She was equally convinced I could get tested. I spoke to at least 5 different health professionals including nurse practitioners, my primary care physician, and my doctor friends. They all said the same thing: there is no diagnostic available for detection in men. I could have it. I could have had it. I could have had it and passed it. I might develop it. There isn’t much a test is going to do for me unless I’m displaying symptoms. That was their collective explanation.

    I don’t know if it is fair for me to say I gave her this virus, at least I don’t think so. Maybe she had it and gave it to me, and I just happened to pass it out of my system before showing symptoms. I don’t know, and neither do my health care practitioners. That said, what do think my responsibility is for informing future partners? “Uhhh, like I might have given someone HPV but I don’t really know…” Not that I would say that, but…I think you get the point of my question.

  6. Elaine, it’s quite arrogant to think you have the right to minimize any STD. It is true that millions of Americans have HPV, it is true that some people’s immune systems are able to kick it–without doing a damn thing–BUT what about all the rest of the people who have to suffer with it for the rest of their lives? What of the women who may get cervical cancer from one the really nasty strains? NO person has the right to decided for someone else what kind of risks are acceptable.(If I could underline that sentence, I would) We are individuals and thus have to respect each individual’s views and concerns for their own bodies. Part respecting other people’s rights to dictate what happens to their bodies is treating that person with respect by giving the person ALL the facts about what they’re getting into.(No pun intended) YOU may not feel like HPV is a serious disease, but they might–or not. You don’t know and you haven’t the right to decide for them whether they should be concerned or not.

    If this question was concerning AIDS this wouldn’t even be an issue. We all know that information has to be disclosed for not disclosing such is akin to manslaughter. Why must it be any different for any other STD?

  7. Elaine, nothing we say in the post has anything to do with the course that HPV can take — the post is purely about honest communication with sexual partners, communication that we think will help people be LESS scared about HPV. Besides, even if your body’s immune system gets rid of it on its own over the years, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let your partner know your past history, because there’s no way of knowing you’ve kicked it or haven’t gotten a new strain for sure (unless you’re a woman and you have the very expensive HPV test done, which most people don’t). As far as doing our homework, have you read the HPV sections in our books “The Big Bang”?


    and “SEX: How to Do Everything”?


    or seen our HPV video?


    Girl, HPV is our middle name!

  8. Do u r homework. Yes you can conquer this virus through healthful ways, both eating habit and not smoking or drinking. It can come back and u can contract other types of hpv. Don’t write anything to scare people until you have thoroughly researched

  9. i just found out i had hpv today and im trying to find out all the information i can, but at the moment nothing seems to easy my mind, its a life long virus…. std…. and can keep getting transmitted so you have to tell your partner…. i feel horrible, and this has really affected my the way i feel about myself. For anyone just seeking information i just want to say be very carefull about your partners because its always unexpected, and always alway use protection.

  10. Em & Lo,

    You mentioned soulmates. Do you really believe in there being just one out there?

  11. You definitely need to tell your partner that you have HPV. I have HPV and I was terrified of telling my partner. I thought he was going to dump my dirty vagina at the door, but he was so sweet and so caring when I cried in his arms about how terrible Essentially, you can have HPV and not know it for a long time. Some people get warts, some don’t, but when you find out that you do have HPV it’s so important to tell whoever you are sleeping with or sleep with in the future, because you don’t want to put someone else at risk nor would you want them to later put someone as risk either.

  12. Most people do have HPV. i did i did tell who i was dating but at the same time they most likely do have a strain of HPV that has been in their system in them for years from past encounters. this is very common. I think you should of done more research on answering this question.

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