Wart the Fuck

Friday, September 24, 2010

Question

I am 40, have been divorced for a few years and, apart from a LDR with a boy who is 25 that ended a year ago, have been very skittish about entering the dating world. I have zero interest in having a serious boyfriend, but as soon as I start thinking about one-night stands or FWB, all I can think about is how guys are walking disease factories who can't be trusted to tell the truth about being disease-free, and I chicken out of trying to mack on anyone. As a result, I've had zero action for a year and a half.

I have always practised safe sex, yet I still managed somehow to pick up a particularly nasty HPV infection that took a brutally long time to eliminate. I was completely devastated. Although the culprits are down to one of two possible candidates, both told me they were completely clean, and neither showed any sign of anything. Only after I started doing a lot of research did I find out that there are quite a few STDs men can carry that without showing any particular symptoms.

I am now completely paranoid. I can't find any reliable source to reassure me that I won't pass on HPV to my next partner, something I never want to do, and this is definitely not a conversation I want to have with someone I want to fuck. A number of my female friends who have had mild cases of HPV are shocked that it even bothers me, and apparently none of them have even considered it fit to mention to any of their partners. According to them, nothing bad has ever happened.

I'm not convinced. If 80 per cent of the population has had HPV, then that means people are passing it around indiscriminately. If both men and women can carry it and not show symptoms, that's just completely ruined my entire sex life. Even safe sex isn't safe any more (as I have found out).

Is there something that can save me from a life of celibacy and of thinking of germs and diseases every time I look at a potential sexual partner? My friends think I'm completely mad and start shouting "OCD" whenever the subject comes up.

Answer

Lyba Spring from Toronto Public Health calls your question "an interesting but common ethical complaint."

Your extravagant reaction is also pretty familiar: the initial shit-fit followed by resentment that you did everything to protect yourself and look what happened, followed by a self-inflicted outcasting, followed by more shit-fitting and thoughts of self-immolation, followed by envy and judgment of others who choose a less "principled" direction than you, followed by a dramatic period of celibacy.

Again, a common route—I went careening down it myself after my HPV diagnosis 23 years ago—but if you want to know what sexual health professional Spring advises in terms of STIs for which there are no symptoms, here it is:

  • Get tested for the common ones, like gonorrhea and chlamydia (urine test for males). Women typically don't show symptoms for the latter, nor do about half of men.
  • Get tested for HIV three months after the last potential exposure.
  • If you have a history of cold sores, let partners know so they can decide if they want to use barrier protection. In most cases, HSV transmission happens in the absence of symptoms.
  • Partners should go to the clinic together. If you decide to stop using barrier protection with each other, you must agree not to have any other sexual relationships without protection.
  • People who've had HPV in the past can be reasonably certain that they no longer have it after a year. Your new partner has probably had it at some point as well. Some people feel it's up to you whether you disclose this aspect of your sexual history.

As Spring says, "There's no reason to forgo the pleasures of sexual intimacy. All of these infections can be treated, and the bacterial infections can be cured. In the case of HPV, it's the immune system that will help clear the virus from the body. If you smoke, consider cutting down. Transmission, like for genital herpes, is skin-to-skin. You can also get molluscum from hot tubs. That said, condoms are good protection for these viruses, but only for the parts that are covered."

Whether we pass along viruses or infections sharing public transit, gym equipment or genitals, we are all walking bacteria factories, Cat. I came up with this completely unscientific opinion after I'd ingested about a half a dozen hits of MDMA: this is why we are here on earth, to provide housing for germs and ferry them from one location to another. There is little we can do about this. If ones that you contract during sex are more emotionally loaded for you, well, perhaps that's the component of this you should really be looking at.

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