This article discusses a mature topic. Our 17-year-old and younger readers are encouraged to read this with an adult.
Put away your turtlenecks and boots, and get out your favorite swimsuit and sandals – it’s officially summer! It’s time for vacations, music festivals, pool parties, picnics in the park, listening to your favorite summer jams and, of course, summer romance.
They say summer love is fleeting, but sometimes summer lovin’ can leave you with something that outlasts your tan lines. So this Ask Elizabeth column will answer reader questions on one of our favorite topics – STDs, with a special focus on HPV. Here’s hoping that your summer is fun, carefree, and leaves you only with happy memories.
Do you have a question that you’d like to see answered in this column? Send them to me at AskElizabeth@pp-la.org.
My doctor told me I have HPV. Does this mean I will get cervical cancer or genital warts?
Not necessarily. Genital warts and certain types of cancers (like cervical cancer) are caused by some types of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – but there are more than 100 types of HPV. Most types of HPV go away on their own without causing any symptoms or complications. A positive diagnosis simply means that you’ll need to be vigilant in monitoring your sexual health – go back for follow up visits with your provider, always use a condom or latex barrier and inform partners of your HPV status.
I’ve heard you can get HPV from skin-to-skin contact. What exactly does this mean?
HPV is spread when the infected skin of one person rubs against the skin of another person – usually during vaginal, anal and oral sex or other genital-to-genital contact, like rubbing with clothes off. It can be spread even when there aren’t any visible symptoms (and there usually aren’t any symptoms of HPV). Casual contact, like hugging or shaking hands with someone, doesn’t spread HPV.
Lately, there have been some misconceptions about oral sex, HPV, and throat cancer (thank you, Michael Douglas.) Since oral sex involves skin-to-skin contact, it is possible to spread HPV to the mouth and throat during oral sex. Some types of HPV can cause cancer in the throat, but it’s usually linked to tobacco and alcohol use, not HPV.
Since HPV is passed through skin-to-skin contact, a condom or latex barrier won’t always protect against it – HPV can infect areas that aren’t covered by condoms or latex barrier. But, condoms and latex barriers will reduce the chances of passing it. The best way to protect yourself is abstinence (not having any vaginal, anal, or oral sex) and by getting the HPV vaccine.
Can males find out their “HPV status”?
Unfortunately, there aren’t any routine tests for males to check for the types of HPV that cause cancers or for genital warts, so it’s especially important to use condoms to reduce the risk of transmission and to get vaccinated. Self-exams are also just as important. Males can check for any unusual growths or sores on the penis, scrotum, or around the anus. If they notice anything out of the ordinary, they should see a health care provider, who can determine whether or not it’s a STD, and provide any necessary treatment.