Relationship ended and left with warts

Dear Alice,

I recently broke up with my girlfriend of two years. There were many positive aspects to the relationship and I thought we were going to get married. There were some major negatives, too, which I am now having to cope with on my own, and I'm having a hell of a time. First of all, there were times when she was emotionally abusive towards me, criticizing me for no good reason or becoming impatient or even nasty over minor details. Another problem is health-related. I wanted to be extra cautious with her, as she had a number of less-protected relationships throughout her life (I think she had low self-esteem.). She was tested for HIV when we started dating and was negative. We continued to use condoms although she really didn't want me to, and would act hurt or confused that I did. Fairly early in the relationship (but after the HIV test), she developed warts, presumably from her last boyfriend (who was also HIV-). She was treated and has not had a recurrence since then.

However it continued to be a struggle for me. She was always acting like condoms = non-commitment or distaste for the other person, and though I generally kept using them, there were times when she would actually sort of "force herself" upon me. Maybe that is unusual for a woman to do to a man, and it wasn't violent or anything, but it was definitely a case of some physical and psychological manipulation to get me to do things I wasn't comfortable with. The worst is now I understand some of the feelings that made her do that. I have developed a few warts, which have since been removed. They were only around the base of the penis, so I don't know if I got them because the condom didn't protect me at first or if they were from a time when she did not have visible warts, but she "coerced me" into unprotected sex. It has now been almost two years since she first developed them and 1 year since I did (I had one small recurrence, as well, a few months ago). She was recently checked with no sign of them.

Now that we are no longer together, these issues are looming over me. I feel like an awful person, like garbage. I can't deal with the idea of the disease. I have been seeing a therapist, but while intellectually, I can analyze my situation, emotionally I continue to feel horrible. I don't want to pass on the virus, but now I, too, feel like a leper and an "untouchable" who no one would ever want to go near. I have read tons of info on it and talked to several doctors and all I get is confused.

Alice, will I ever be normal? I know I have so much to give to the right person. But I feel ashamed, embarrassed, and depressed. I don't talk to my friends about this because they are as inexperienced as I and, as one would normally expect, STDs are alien to them. I feel like that would distance me from them and all they could offer is pity. Alice, I don't want to be pitied. I want to be valued. Will my life ever be happy, or have I destroyed myself?

—Feeling Lousy in Nowhere

Dear Feeling Lousy in Nowhere,

Hopefully, reaching out and writing this letter provided some solace for you. Break-ups are difficult, and sometimes the emotions are so strong that it's hard to sort things out and get on with your daily life. The best thing for you would be to use your "support network", comprised of your family members, friends, and co-workers. These individuals are likely there to support you, through thick and thin. During this trying time, try to surround yourself with people around who know you well, and who can provide comfort and support.

Once you have your support net mobilized and your healthy habits in place, you can start to assess your past relationship. It sounds as though certain aspects of the relationship were unhealthy. That doesn't mean that you didn't love and care for each other; rather, parts of the relationship made you feel insecure, sad, and/or unsafe. It sounds as if you gave a lot of yourself up in order to make this relationship work. That's okay — you now know that giving up your independence, your desires, and your values does not keep a relationship going.

Next time, and although it doesn't feel like it at all, there will be a next time. You will enter a relationship with the wisdom of the mistakes of this one, and any time you've spent alone getting to know yourself, make sure you take care of yourself as an important person. You can also check out Relationship, not just sex at CU? for more information about starting a new relationship.

You said that you have done a lot of research on genital warts, but are still confused. Well, here are some facts about genital warts that might help you learn a little bit more about it:

  • Genital warts are the most common viral sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S.
  • They are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), with more than 30 identified strains of HPV
  • Genital warts are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with an infected partner
  • An infected person is highly contagious just before and during an outbreak
  • There are various successful treatments for wart removal, although warts may return after removal
  • Symptoms can be managed, although the virus remains in the body forever
  • Warts are usually painless, but may cause burning, itching, and/or bleeding
  • Some strains of HPV may be a risk factor for cervical cancer
  • Gardasil is a vaccine that protects people from certain strains of HPV that cause genital warts

It is not unusual to feel dirty or ashamed because you have an STI. Many people feel undesirable and unlovable, like this has changed their whole life in a way they can't handle, especially in the first few years after getting the STI. There may also be a lot of anger toward the sexual partner who passed the STI on, although it is usually difficult to know exactly from whom and when the virus was spread. At the same time, many, many people are out there who also have STIs and are living healthy, vibrant, satisfying sexual lives. It does not mean the end of your sexuality and happiness!

Various educational and support groups exist, where you can speak with others who are in similar situations. More information is available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention website, as well on the website of the American Social Health Association’s National HPV and Cervical Cancer Prevention Resource Center.

Last updated Sep 13, 2012
Originally published Oct 20, 1995

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