By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Mar 11, 2022
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Do I have to disclose my past HPV diagnosis?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 11 Mar. 2022, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/do-i-have-disclose-my-past-hpv-diagnosis. Accessed 22, Jun. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2022, March 11). Do I have to disclose my past HPV diagnosis?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/do-i-have-disclose-my-past-hpv-diagnosis.

Dear Alice,

I was diagnosed with HPV three years ago, it has since cleared — become undetectable. Since being tested and learning that I had HPV, I'd been in relationships and told my partners prior to having sex that I had it and we always used condoms. The last pap I got showed that the virus had become undetectable. I'm currently single and what I'm wondering is, if I have casual sex (with a condom, of course), do I have to tell the person that I've tested positive for HPV?

Dear Reader,

You’ve posed an interesting and complicated question. While you’re right that an HPV (human papillomavirus) infection may become undetectable or even clear up on its own, it’s hard to know for sure if it’s truly “gone.” Using a condom during casual sex can definitely reduce the risk of passing HPV to your partner(s), but it’s not guaranteed. For this reason, honesty is always key in any type of sexual relationship.

Honest communication is crucial to relationships, even casual ones, and talking about HPV could reduce the stigma surrounding this extremely common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Along the same lines, opening up a discussion about your sexual health history may prompt your partner to do the same. Talking with your partner(s) could also be a learning opportunity — for example, maybe they don’t know about the recommended vaccines, which can protect against several HPV strains. Also, having an open conversation might end up being a stress reliever for your partner(s) — many sexually active adults have had at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.

As you consider initiating this conversation, some steps you may consider to help prepare include: 

  1. Learn about STIs. A lot of misinformation and myths about STIs are prevalent due to stigma, lack of comprehensive sex education, etc. Having the information you need can help you learn more about it for yourself and how you can communicate about it to a partner. Planned Parenthood and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both have great online resources that you may consider checking out further. 
  2. Plan your conversation. Before any difficult conversation, it's beneficial to plan out what you want to say and how you hope to say it. Practicing in the mirror can help, and saying the words out loud before the big moment is a great strategy to consider. You may also want to think about how your partner may potentially respond, and what your reaction would be. Maybe their only knowledge of HPV reflects some of the prevalent myths, and so part of the conversation will need to be educational. They may have some fears as well. Sharing the facts about HPV can help with that. And, who knows — maybe they also have an STI and this conversation will allow them to share that more comfortably as well! 
  3. Start talking. Once you've thought about what you want to say and how you want to say it, thinking about the setting of the conversation is essential. Having the conversation in a charged moment (sexually or otherwise) may not be best. Rather, plan ahead and pick a location and medium for the conversation that'll feel safe for both of you to share openly and honestly with each other. Once you've done that, have the conversation! Make sure you listen to your partner in ways that reflect how you want to be listened to, and hopefully you can work together to create a shared understanding and plan moving forward that'll enable you both to feel supported and ready to engage in whatever is right for you.

List adopted from Planned Parenthood.

At the end of the day, an honest foundation can be a healthy foundation in any relationship. Everyone deserves to have happy, healthy, and fulfilling relationships. Open, direct, and sometimes difficult conversations such as these are often an essential part of laying that foundation. If you're having trouble starting or could use additional support, speaking with a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional may be useful. Here's to big conversations while keeping virus detectability small!

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