We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto today's topic: the dos and don'ts of dating someone who has HPV.
Q: The guy I'm dating was unknowingly given HPV by his previous partner. He let me know about it right when we started dating, before we had sex. He feels like he’s damaged goods and has to live under a rock the rest of his life. How do I help him feel better about this? I hate seeing him so upset.
A: Thanks for the question! Sexually transmitted infections are incredibly common, so this is an issue that a lot of people out there will have to deal with at one point in their lives. Here are seven do’s and don’ts for dating someone who has HPV — though many of these tips would apply to dating someone with any STI.
Do: Thank Them For Being Honest
Unfortunately, there’s a pretty big stigma that comes along with having a sexually transmitted infection. Because of that, a lot of people with STIs are hesitant to inform their partners. Other people want to refuse to attend to their symptoms or acknowledge their STI status altogether.
That’s how your partner wound up in this situation in the first place. His willingness to let you know that he has HPV was really brave. If you haven’t already, thank him for being truthful with you. Say something like, “that must have been really hard to tell me. I want you to know that I appreciate it.”
People make a lot of judgments and assumptions about people with sexually transmitted infections, but STIs are so prevalent these days that there really are no widespread patterns in the people who contract them. You can get an STI regardless of your race, class, education, sexual orientation, age, or number of partners (unless you’re completely celibate of course). Even people who are vigilant about practicing safe sex can wind up with a sexually transmitted infection. The fact that the person you’re with has an STI says nothing about who they are as a person, so try to fight any judgments you might be inclined to make.
It really sucks that your partner was given HPV unknowingly. I’m not sure if his past partner knew about their status or not, but it’s a bummer either way. One of the best ways you can put your guy at ease is to let him share his story with you and tell him that you feel for him.
If it feels comfortable, you can ask him questions like, “how did you find out?” and “what was your reaction?” He may not have had the opportunity to talk to someone about his status, so sharing with you can feel like a huge weight off his back. You can share your sympathy with simple statements like, “I’m so sorry that happened to you” or “you didn’t deserve that.”
One of the things you might learn during your research is that having an STI doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Many STIs can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics. Some are completely asymptomatic. HPV gets a bad rap, but did you know that many strains of HPV can be completely cleared by your body without causing any ill effects? Also, HPV is so common that almost every sexually active adult will get a strain of it at one point in their lives. No one wants to get an STI, but the reality is that you can still have a perfectly happy and exciting life inside and outside of the bedroom.
Do: Educate Yourself
This is a great opportunity for you to learn more about sexually transmitted infections and sexual safety. Planned Parenthood has a great info page about HPV that talks about symptoms, testing, and treatment. Read other people's accounts of living with HPV. You can also talk to your doctor about any questions you might have.
If you feel comfortable, ask your partner what he knows about HPV, and if there are any questions he still has about it. There are a lot of misconceptions about STIs, so it’s possible that he’s working with outdated or inaccurate information. That bad information might be causing him to feel unnecessarily guilty or ashamed about his HPV. Don’t underestimate the value of proper education.
Don’t: Expose Yourself To Risk Out Of Guilt
I once got an email from a woman in a similar situation to yours, who ended up having unprotected sex with the guy because she didn’t want him to feel like a leper. It’s nice to want to destigmatize sexually transmitted infections, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of your personal safety.
With your partner, talk about how the two of you can be safe when you’re being intimate. Discuss the risk levels of the activities the two of you like to engage in. Make a commitment to using condoms every time the two of you have sex. You can also talk to your doctor about getting Gardasil, the HPV vaccine. It doesn’t protect against all strains of HPV, but does cover the main cancer-causing ones.
Do: Give It Time
At the end of the day, there is only so much that you can do to help your partner feel better about his HPV. He has a process that he has to go through on his own. Encourage him to talk to his doctor or therapist, or find an HPV support group. Keep letting him know that you support him and aren’t making any judgments about him. Ask him if there’s any other way that you can be there for him.
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