Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions
Will my friend still be able to have sex if she finds out she has HPV?
My friend might have HPV...she went to the doctor to get tested and she’s waiting for the results. Assuming she does have HPV, what are the chances that she can continue to have a normal sex life?
Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD on September 19, 2011
Thanks for caring so much about your friend to ask this great question.
If your friend has human papillomavirus (HPV), she’ll be able to have a relatively normal sex life...with precautions. HPV is a very common virus...over 50% of people who are sexually active will get it at some point in their lives. That said, if your friend tests positive for the virus, she should tell any sexual partner(s) that she has HPV, and what type she has.
Unfortunately, she could give a partner HPV even with condom use, so the only guaranteed way to keep that from happening is to not have sex at all. The good news is that using condoms every time she has sex will greatly reduce that risk.
If your friend has HPV, what’s next? There are many types of HPV, but those that create the most concern are the types that cause cervical cancer and the types that cause genital warts.
If your friend finds out she has the type of HPV that causes cervical cancer, she can talk to her doctor about appropriate treatment...her doctor will look at the cells in her cervix and decide if they should be removed to reduce her risk of developing cancer. If she has the kind of HPV that causes genital warts, her doctor can also prescribe treatment for that condition. To learn more about HPV risks, prevention and treatment, you might share with your friend our HPV Overview.
Remember, while HPV is not curable, it’s definitely treatable and manageable...and luckily the body often “clears” the virus to where its dormant (no symptoms).
Finally, to ensure the healthiest possible sex life, your friend should get tested for other STDs, as well, and make sure to tell all her partners about her status. Why do I advise your friend to get tested for other STDs, too? Because, if she’s been exposed to HPV, she might have been exposed to additional common STDs. And knowing her STD status for sure is important so that she can make good decisions about treatment and practicing safer sex to better protect herself and her future partner(s).
If your friend is concerned about telling her partners about her diagnosis, I wrote about some ways people can tell their partners about genital warts in another answer.
Thanks again for writing. And for being so helpful to your friend.
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.