Sex Advice

Dear Dr. Locker: I'm 78 years old. My new partner (for the past 10 months) and I have an extraordinary sex life. However, I think she was dishonest with me. My doctor says I now have HPV. What problems will it create for me?

Answer from Dr. Locker

It’s wonderful to hear from a septuagenarian who has a fulfilling sex life. I’m also glad that you shared your story, because it’s enlightening for all who read this to learn that anyone at any age can get a sexually transmitted disease.

Your partner may not have been dishonest with you. Perhaps she simply did not know that she had HPV. The Human Papilloma Virus is so common that according to the American Social Health Organization, it is estimated that at least 75% of sexually active Americans will contract HPV at some point in their lives, and many never even know it. Often the virus never shows any symptoms, and in some cases the virus resolves on its own.

Also, there is the chance that you did not even get it from her. It is usually impossible to determine exactly who the virus was transmitted from, because in some people the virus appears within weeks or months after infection, but in others the virus may remain dormant for years before it ever is evident. So you could have contracted HPV from someone years ago, and it’s just appearing now.

When HPV does show symptoms, the most common would be genital warts in men or women. For women, there is an easy screening test for the virus, even when warts are not present. In men there are no tests for the virus. So when a man is diagnosed with HPV, that would mean that genital warts were detected in or on his penis, scrotum, or anus.

Approximately 1 million people in the US are diagnosed with new cases of HPV each year. While some strains of HPV can cause cancer, most do not. In 2008, 11,070 women were diagnosed with new cases of cervical cancer (from HPV), according to the National Cancer Institute. In men, it is possible that if the strain of HPV was one that could lead to cancer, then the man could contract penile or anal cancer; however, this is more rare. According to the National Cancer Institute in 2008, about 1,250 men in the US were diagnosed with cancer of the penis, and 2,020 men were diagnosed with cancer of the anus. (Both penile and anal cancer are more often diagnosed in gay or bisexual men). Much more likely for men, the problems associated with contracting HPV are the discomfort and inconvenience of dealing with having the warts removed by a doctor, and the risk of transmitting the virus to a partner.

The treatment for genital warts is removal by cryotherapy (freezing), laser, minor surgery, topical medication, or topical acid administered only by a doctor. There is some pain from the removal, of course. Potential complications that could occur in a man as a result of the treatment would include a disturbed urine stream if the warts were removed from inside the urethra; however, this would pass after healing occurs. Please talk with your medical doctor for more details.

Also, I must note, that you should talk openly with your partner about your HPV, and you will need to abstain from sex during treatment, and use condoms after.

For more info, check out my answers to these relevant questions:

*I’ve heard that condoms are never 100% safe, and they protect against certain STDs better than others. What’s the story, and aside from celibacy, what do I do?

*Most of my sexual encounters are unprotected. I notice a pimple like bump on the outside of my vagina. Could I have an STD or HIV?

* How can I bring up the topic of using condoms with someone I'm dating?

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