I was recently diagnosed with genital warts (caused by a non cancer causing strain of HPV). It was highly confusing (how long have I had HPV? why did the warts show up where they did?), and a bit distressing (what will my new partner say? how will future conversations go with future partners?). There isn’t a lot of great and solid information out there about genital warts (even my doctor was like “Yeah, it’s always risky to have genital-genital contact. I don’t know what you should tell your partners”), and it was even more stressful having to talk to my new partner about it. Luckily for me, both J and my new partner S are communicative, loving, and flexible, and I didn’t have to go through any additional relationship stress.
Like herpes, genital warts are pretty dang harmless. If you see them early and treat them quickly (usually with a topical cream), they go away pretty fast. But people don’t want them. “STI” connotes something scary and dangerous, and even while genital warts are harmless and non-life threatening, because they fall under that STI umbrella, I think may of us think of them as scary.
The reality is, the majority of us are exposed to various HPV strains causing genital warts by the time we are middle aged. Many people will have one outbreak and never have another, and many people don’t even realize they have an outbreak before their body clears the virus. Some people have the virus their whole life and never experience an outbreak. It spreads like nobody’s business, and it can be such a mild (or nonexistent) experience for many, many people; many sexual health websites say that genital warts and HPV are the common cold of STIs.
Do I have an obligation and responsibility to tell new partners that I have had one outbreak and that it was treated successfully? I lean towards yes, but I don’t really know.
The risk of transmission is much lower when there are no warts present (much like how the transmission of herpes is much lower when there are no sores present), but there’s always a risk- unless my body clears the virus completely. But I won’t ever really know, so it seems like a tough thing to be able to communicate to partners and to know how to support people in figuring out how they want to calculate risk-taking for themselves.
An aside: dental dams suck. They just do. I wish there was a better way to use a barrier on a pussy, because god damn it, dental dams just stink. I want to like dental dams and I want to be a reliable, consistent, and perfect user of them with new partners. But I don’t and I’m not.
Another aside: it has been truly hysterical and amazing how the clients I work with have come in with mirroring experiences to my own. I had a client a few weeks ago talking about her distressing week from being diagnosed with genital herpes. I wanted to be like “Omg, girl! I get you!!” but I obviously cannot do that. Instead, I nodded my head and validated her fears and concerns and worries, and helped her explore why she had such a strong reaction to her own diagnosis.
I experienced some self-shaming with my diagnosis: I’ve had sex with so many people, this is what I get, right? A frickin’ STI that may never go away? I’m so terrible! I should have done better talking to new partners about their sexual history, I should have done better using barrier methods.
Luckily, that self-shaming went away pretty quickly. I’m proud of my sexual history, adventuring, and gallivanting, and all of the communication I have had with past partners, and I don’t expect much of that to change.