Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions
How do I tell my partner I have genital warts?
Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD on August 11, 2011
You’re on the right track to gather information and start thinking about what to sayto your boyfriend about genital warts. Having an open, honest conversation about each other’s sexual history is very important way to protect yourself and your partner from possibly transmitting genital warts or other sexually transmitted infections to each other.
One idea is to begin the conversation by sharing with your boyfriend that you recently went to the doctor and had some routine tests done. You found out that you have a common virus called human papillomavirus or HPV. You can also let him know that...
- Having HPV doesn’t mean either one of you cheated. Although people are more likely to have HPV if they’ve had multiple sex partners, more than 50% of sexually active people are likely to catch some form of HPV in their lifetime. Most people don’t even notice they have it before symptoms of the virus go away on their own, usually in 6-12 months. And when people don’t know they have the virus, they’re more likely to pass it on. So, yes: it’s also possible that your boyfriend passed the virus to you, but not necessarily because he was cheating on you...he might have become infected in a previous relationship without knowing it.
- The two types of HPV that cause most genital warts are called HPV-6 and HPV-11. The good news is that HPV-6 and HPV-11 are considered “low-risk” types of HPV. That means that they usually don’t turn into cancer down the road.
- Genital warts are treatable. The typical treatment for genital warts is a medicated that is applied to the warts and that will help them go away. Or, your doctor might opt to apply a treatment during your visit, or even freeze the warts. But keep in mind that treatment just gets rid of the warts...not the virus. So even after treatment, it’s still possible to spread HPV to others.
- The best way to protect your partner from getting genital warts is to not have sex. But if that’s not an option, you can reduce the risk of transmission by waiting to have sex until the warts are gone...and then using latex condoms (or dental dams if you have oral sex) during all sexual activity. Again, however, using protection isn’t foolproof because HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact. That means that if a part of your body that’s infected with HPV touches a part of his genital area that isn’t covered by a condom, he can still get the virus. Other sexual contact counts, too – if he touches your genitals and then touches his, he could pass HPV to his genitals.
Once you’re prepared with good information, telling your boyfriend about your genital warts will likely be easier. I encourage you to talk to your boyfriend soon about your genital warts. He deserves to be informed so that both of you can take the right steps to stay protected...in fact, he may want to visit his doctor for a visual exam to ensure he doesn’t have genital warts, too. And both of you may benefit from testing for other common STDs because people with one STD are more likely to have another STD as well.
If either of you has more questions about HPV risks, symptoms, testing and treatment options, please take a look at our HPV Overview.
Finally, starting the conversation from the perspective of doing what’s best for your health and his health will also provide a platform from which to have an honest dialogue about other concerns...like whether or not your boyfriend might be sexually active with someone else.
I wish you good health, as well as courage in developing a trusting relationship.
Dr. Cunningham is a member of the Analyte Physicans Group. She's also a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, practicing at both Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois and at Wheaton Franciscan All Saints Medical Center in Wisconsin. An ER physician since 2000, she regularly treats patients with STDs. Dr. Cunningham was educated at Wayne State University School of Medicine and completed her Emergency Medicine residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL.