Living With Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of sexually transmitted infections. They vary in symptoms and severity. While some people with the condition might never know they have it, others might develop things like genital warts. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the world.

When you come in contact with the HPV virus, it could take weeks, months, or even years before you exhibit any symptoms. There are many types of HPV. Some are mild and show no signs; others cause genital warts or abnormal cell changes that can lead to the development of cervical cancer.  

There’s no medical test to diagnose HPV before it exhibits symptoms. You might only discover you have HPV because you developed genital warts, had an abnormal pap smear result, or already developed cancer from the virus in severe cases.

If you discovered your diagnosis because of genital warts or an abnormal pap smear, the good news is that there are treatments for the health problems that HPV may cause. If your cancer is caught early, it can also be treated. 

If you’ve just been diagnosed with HPV or have been living with HPV, this article breaks down how your diagnosis might affect you mentally and what next steps you should take to optimize your well-being while living with this condition.

Emotional Impact of Living With HPV

Getting a diagnosis of HPV can take quite an emotional toll on you. You might become more socially withdrawn and exhibit symptoms of anxiety and depression over your diagnosis. It’s important to remember at this point that you can go on to live a regular life. 

As you can imagine, having a sexually transmitted infection could take its toll on any future romantic relationships you have. But this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to enter loving and committed relationships. When you do, it’s mandatory to share that you are living with HPV with any romantic partners you have.

Before sharing the news with your partner, it’s essential to educate yourself about the virus to avoid spreading misinformation. There are several misconceptions and myths about HPV, such as it always causes cancer or is caused by sexual promiscuity.

Physical Impact of Living With HPV

One of the most worrying concerns of getting an HPV diagnosis is developing cancer from it. Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. The good news is that it can be prevented. Going for regular pap smear tests can detect abnormalities in your cervix that might be precancerous. Treating this can prevent cervical cancer from developing.

Protecting Yourself and Others

If you’ve been diagnosed with HPV, you can still lead a relatively normal life. However, you need to protect yourself and any other sexual partners you have as you do so:

  • Use condoms: Using condoms when having sex is essential to reduce the risk of transmitting HPV. It’s necessary to know that merely using condoms doesn’t completely eliminate this risk.
  • Get regular checkups: For women above 21 living with HPV, it’s important to regularly get screened for cervical cancer. Getting a pap smear every three years is generally recommended to catch cervical cancer early on. 
  • Get vaccinated: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children between 11 and 12 are advised to get the HPV vaccine. This is because, at that age, you are unlikely to be sexually active. However, the vaccine is approved up until the age of 26.

In many cases of HPV, your immune system will fight back, and the virus will resolve on its own. This can take anywhere between a couple of months to a couple of years. As your body works to fight off the virus, you can help it along by practicing the following healthy habits: 

  • Eat a balanced diet to keep your immune system healthy
  • Cut out alcohol and smoking. 
  • Get enough sleep at night (at least eight to nine hours). 
  • Decrease stress in your life. Some research shows that being stressed can cause HPV to linger in your system, which could increase your cancer risk.

Social Impact of Living With HPV

Being diagnosed with HPV is nothing to be ashamed about. Most sexually active people have been exposed to the virus at some point in their lives.

Understandably, an HPV diagnosis can cause some anxiety, so it’s crucial to find a support system to lean on. You may choose to open up about your condition to family and friends or join a support group for people living with HPV in your area. 

Sex and Relationships With HPV 

If you’ve been diagnosed with HPV, you might be advised to abstain from sex for a while. Although using a condom can reduce the risk of transmission to your partner, it doesn’t eliminate it.

While it can be a difficult conversation to have, depending on your situation, doctors may advise that you inform your partner if you learn that you have HPV. This is to make sure that they can check in with their healthcare providers.

It’s important to remember that HPV infections are common, and most strains of the virus do not cause health problems. You might not develop any symptoms up to years after being exposed to the virus in many cases. 

Having a partner who has been diagnosed with HPV doesn’t necessarily mean that they have been unfaithful to you. If the virus is transmitted to you from a partner, remember that they most likely didn’t know they were living with the infection and had no intention of infecting you. 

It’s essential to constantly have open and honest conversations about your sexual health and sexual history with your partner. It’s also vital to get routinely checked for sexually transmitted infections and diseases. Although these tests don’t pick up on the HPV virus, they can pick up on other viruses like HIV

Resources and Organizations

Organizations like National Cervical Cancer Coalition and the American Sexual Health Association are likely to have a support group you could join in your community or a community next to yours. You can also reach out to National HPV Vaccination Roundtable or HPVandMe for additional support.

Caregiving and Helping Others

If your partner or someone you know is struggling with the news of having been diagnosed with HPV, you can help them out.

What most people who have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection struggle with is shame. They might feel guilt over their past sexual practices. It’s important to remind them that you are there for them emotionally and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Encourage them to open up to you about any feelings and struggles they might have about their diagnosis. If they’ve joined a support group, you could also go along for some meetings. 

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Juckett G, Hartman-Adams H. Human papillomavirus: clinical manifestations and prevention. American Family Physician. 2010;82(10):1209-1213.

  3. World Health Organization. Cervical Cancer. 2021

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet. January 19, 2021

  5. ScienceDaily. Stress and depression is linked to HPV-related health problems: Study links stress levels of adolescents to health complications from human papillomavirus, which can include cervical cancer. April 30,2016

  6. Hoover K, Friedman A, Montaño D, Kasprzyk D, Greek A, Hogben M. What about the partners of women with abnormal Pap or positive HPV tests? Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 2009;36(3):141-146.

By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.