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Living with HPV infection: How Do I Tell My Partner?

How Do I Tell My Partner?
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Human Papillomavirus, also known as HPV, is a common virus that can affect anybody, including those who are married or in a steady monogamous relationship.

There are over 150 strains of HPV viruses [1]. HPV viruses can be passed through skin-to-skin contact; hence, they can be transmitted through sexual activities. A vast majority of the sexually active population may encounter HPV infections at certain points in their life with most not showing any signs or symptoms of infection.

So, if you find out you are infected with HPV, is it all doom and gloom for your relationship? You may wonder if you have to tell your partner and how you will go about it. 

Don’t despair; we are here to help you manoeuvre your way through this sticky situation. Keep reading as we go through everything you should know about informing your partner that you have HPV.

1. Get your HPV facts checked!

Before talking to your partner, you should understand HPV yourself, as getting your facts straight is paramount. Be sure to counter-check and ensure your HPV information sources are reputable and accurate rather than relying purely on Google and the internet.

Consult your trusted doctor if you have unanswered questions and queries on HPV infection that require further explanation. Bear in mind that your doctor may enquire about your previous sexual history and possible HPV symptoms (if any). This way, your doctor can stratify your HPV infection risk. Sometimes, doctors may suggest a physical checkup of the genital region or even an HPV test for further evaluation.

As sensitive topics such as HPV can cause a strain between couples, it is important to check your facts with your doctor and other reliable sources before you start the conversation with your partner.

HPV facts
Know the facts and understand what HPV is all about before talking to your partner.

2. Understand that HPV infection is very common. 

HPV infection is prevalent, with almost everyone in a sexual relationship exposed to it at some point [2]. This does not mean you have done anything immoral or been unfaithful with your partner. Based on the CDC, 85% of the population who are sexually active will encounter HPV infection during their lifetime [3]. In Singapore, HPV infection prevails at 9.31% [4].

It is possible that a person may carry HPV for years, all while being asymptomatic. However, over time, one may present with HPV symptoms such as warts – viral lesions on the skin at the genital surface and oral or throat mucosa. Less commonly, in severe cases of HPV, one can develop cervical cancer, penile or anal cancer, or even head, neck, and throat cancer from an HPV infection.

As a person can have HPV without any symptoms, they may continue having different sexual relationships, thus making it difficult to trace the person’s sexual contact history.

3. Find a suitable opportunity to discuss with your partner.

The key to a successful long-term relationship is being constantly open and honest. It is normal to initially feel uncomfortable, worried, and distressed when you find out about an HPV infection.

Once you have gotten the correct facts and information on HPV, arrange a suitable time with your partner. Out of courtesy and respect, it is best to have a face-to-face discussion in a quiet, private, and comfortable place. 

couple talking
Sharing the news about your HPV infection should be done in a quiet, comfortable, and safe space.

4. Work through the next steps together. 

After the conversation with your partner, what comes next? If your partner is agreeable, you can also consider scheduling a discussion appointment with them and your trusted doctor to obtain first-hand professional input on an HPV infection. This also allows your partner to clear any doubts or answer their questions. Addressing this challenging topic this way is likely to assuage unnecessary relationship tension and anxiety.

Speaking to professionals, such as your trusted doctor, may be beneficial in guiding you and your partner on the next course of action following a diagnosis of HPV infection.

Here are some important questions to ask your doctor:

  • Do my partner and I require HPV screening or treatments?
  • Your doctor may offer both you and your partner a medical checkup to screen for HPV-related symptoms such as warts and may offer you/partner sexually transmitted infections (STIs) screening (both male and female) and HPV test (for females) for screening. Treatment will be targeted based on your individual risks and presenting symptoms.  
  • Are there any ways to protect myself and my partner against HPV?
  • Your doctor may recommend the HPV vaccination for protection against HPV infection and HPV-related cancers. It effectively and safely reduces the risk and protects you against HPV infection [5]. You can find out more regarding HPV vaccinations from your doctor. 
  • How will the HPV infection affect your future or your partners?
  • In terms of the psychosocial aspect and biological/fertility when it comes to HPV, most couples with HPV infection eventually come to terms with the diagnosis and can lead a normal life, including having their own nucleus family. If you and/or your partner have HPV-related symptoms, your doctor can guide you further on the appropriate treatment to manage the symptoms. 
  • What are the implications of not treating HPV infection?
  • HPV can predispose a person to developing warts over the genital regions or oral/throat region. In less common cases (though with more severe implications), HPV infection can lead to cancers such as cervical cancer (female), vaginal, vulva and anal cancer(female), anal and penile cancer (male), head, neck or throat cancer (male and female). 
HPV
Having a discussion with your doctor about HPV infection along with your partner can help clear up doubts and anxiety.

5. Know the reality of living with HPV.

The HPV topic can cause friction and strain among couples. Thankfully, most HPV infections can be spontaneously cleared by a person’s immune system. This is why it is vital to know the realities of living with HPV and understand the facts.

If you or your partner are experiencing HPV-related symptoms, curative treatment is possible to manage the symptoms. You and your partner may be offered HPV vaccination to prevent further infections from HPV. Periodic and regular medical and dental checkups may be advised to screen for HPV-related symptoms. 

What to take note of when it comes to HPV infections

The key takeaway points of HPV infections are:

  • Most HPV infections can be cleared spontaneously or after medical treatment [6].
  • Regular STI screening can help pick up early HPV infections and HPV-related skin or mucosal changes.
  • There is a vaccination to reduce the risk of transmission and protect you and your partner against HPV infection.
HPV vaccination
Your doctor can guide you through HPV vaccination and treatments.

References

  1. Burd, E. M. (2003). Human Papillomavirus and Cervical Cancer. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 1-17.
  2. Harrell W. Chesson, E. F. (2014). The Estimated Lifetime Probability of Acquiring Human Papillomavirus in the United States. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 660-664.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November 10). Reasons to Get HPV Vaccine. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine/six-reasons.html
  4. Sun Kuie Tay, L. L. (2014). Prevalence of cervical human papillomavirus infection in healthy women is related to sexual behaviours and educational level: a cross-sectional study. International Journal of STD and AIDS, 1013-1021.
  5. Supitcha Kamolratanakul, P. P. (2021). Human Papillomavirus Vaccine Efficacy and Effectiveness against Cancer. Vaccines (Basel), doi: 10.3390/vaccines9121413.
  6. Johannes Huber, A. M.-A. (2021). Human papillomavirus persistence or clearance after infection in reproductive age. What is the status? Review of the literature and new data of a vaginal gel containing silicate dioxide, citric acid, and selenite. Women's Health (London), doi: 10.1177/17455065211020702.

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