I was seeing this guy who seemed pretty great. But when I asked about his STI status, he told me that he had HPV. He said it’s the kind that causes warts. He also told me that he got a shot that made it not contagious. While we were together, I was diagnosed with HPV myself. That’s when he said that I misheard him, and the shot was to keep the warts from causing cancer.

Is this true? Do either of these shots even exist?

Please help!
Worried About Warts

Dear Worried,

First of all, I want to say I’m sorry that your ex didn’t consider your sexual wellness a top priority. It’s pretty unfair for people to participate in sex without engaging in an honest conversation about their own health. There’s absolutely no shame in having an STI, but it’s pretty sketchy to obfuscate information that could negatively impact another person’s health.

Because that’s what he did here. There is not a shot that will affect the course or contagion risk of an human papillomavirus infection. There is a shot that can help prevent contracting some strains of HPV in the first place. The vaccines Gardasil and Gardasil 9 provide nearly 100% protection against four and five HPV strains, respectively. (There have been a few reported cases of improvement following receiving an HPV vaccination, but there have been far more cases where the vaccine didn’t alter an active infection in any way.)

HPV is an incredibly common collection of about 120 strains of viruses. Many of those viruses cause warts. As a matter of fact, if you’ve ever had a wart on your hand, foot, or other body part, you’ve had HPV. Forty HPV strains are sexually transmitted, and specifically target the anus, genitals, and reproductive tract. Almost all sexually active adults in America will have HPV at some point in their life, whether or not they’re aware of it. Regardless of where the infection occurs, many strains clear on their own in about six to 12 months, but not all strains do this. And there are 13 sexually transmitted strains that can become precancerous if left untreated.

While there is no shot that will alter the course of an established case of HPV, there are several ways to treat the viruses. Cryotherapy (freezing the cells), conization (removing the cells during an in-office procedure),  laser therapy (burning away the cells), and topical medications (to stimulate the immune system into killing off the cells) are a few of the treatment options available.

HPV and several other STIs can be transmitted by skin to skin contact. Using barrier methods of prevention is really effective in reducing risk of transmission. Dentals dams and external condoms are important for oral-genital and oral-anal contact. For vaginal or anal penetration, use external and internal condoms. (Pro tip: internal condoms cover a large portion of the vulva or anus, further reducing the risk of skin-to-skin transmission.) And don’t forget about gloves for handjobs and vaginal/anal fingering.

Because you’ve been diagnosed with HPV, you’ll want to work with your healthcare provider to find a treatment that works for you, and get a repeat PAP test in a year. Continue talking to your current and future partners about your status, and use barriers during sex play to prevent transmission.

Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her a question at [email protected] and she’ll get back to you with an answer.

About The Author

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Lucky Tomaszek, LM, CPM, is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee's only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Most mornings you can find her balancing her cat and her keyboard in her lap, working to make the world a smarter, safer place for people of all genders and orientations.