Carolyn Hax: If you're sexually active, HPV risk is high

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
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By Carolyn Hax
Thursday, December 24, 2009

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I just found out I got HPV from my first partner. I didn't lose my virginity until I was 29, and it sucks that this had to happen, especially since we recently broke up after a year and a half of dating. On one hand, I understand the statistics were against me, but, on the other hand, I feel like shoes are dropping on me left and right. And I can't help but feel dirty. How do I get over this?

Ashamed, USA

You're not dirty, you're a member of a very large club, and it's safe to assume that most if not all of its members bathe regularly, for reasons that I'll let the American Social Health Association ( explain:

"It has been estimated that 75 percent or more of sexually active Americans will contract HPV sometime in their lives. This means that anyone who has ever had sexual relations has a high chance of being exposed to this virus, but only a small number of women infected with HPV develop cell changes that need to be treated. In almost all cases, the immune system will keep the virus (including the cancer-related HPV types) under control or get rid of it completely."

Please do visit this site, or drop in electronically on the Centers for Disease Control ( to find out the full story. Everybody who has sex with anyone should have at least working familiarity with the contents.

In the meantime, please know that your HPV will likely run its course. It's different from HSV and HIV that way.

Oh, and if you're female, keep up with your regular gynecological exams, to watch for cervical cancer. But, then, every woman should anyway.

The short answer is, really, it's not that big a deal.

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