I learned the hard way
I got HPV from one of the first people I had sex with. Lame. Nothing like having warts on your dick to really fuck up your self-esteem.
I didn’t want to get treated and I didn’t want to talk about it. I was embarrassed and ashamed. My parents didn’t find out for years. No one knew, not even some of the women I slept with. It was going to be don’t ask, don’t tell from here on out.
Don’t look at pictures of warts on the internet
I mean do. Knowledge is power. It’s good to know what they look like, so you can properly identify them on yourself and on your partners. Warning, this is a link to the wikipedia page for genital warts. I warned you OK.
Just know that they never show you average cases, only worse case scenarios. We’re talking severely untreated cases of genital warts here.
After looking at those photos I was convinced that if I didn’t seek treatment ASAP, my dick would fall off. I sought treatment. ASAP.
Then I spent a lot of time reading about HPV and other STIs on the internet. I looked at way too many photos. I learned a lot. However, one thing I never learned was how to talk about having warts.
It didn’t stop me from having sex
I was a horny teenager. I was just discovering sex. A small wart or two certainly wasn’t going to stop me from having sex.
Every now and then I’d meet a woman and we’d hook up. I didn’t tell her about having warts and she didn’t ask. It was all very don’t ask, don’t tell.
That was fine by me.
But really, I knew better. It wasn’t fine.
I knew I should tell her about my warts. She had a right to know. Just because she didn’t ask, didn’t mean I didn’t have to tell her.
Shame and fear of not fucking
But I was terrified. I had so much shame around having warts. I was terrified that she would reject me, tell me I was dirty, and then tell everyone at school.
Also though, I really didn’t want to fuck up my chances of having sex. And I just KNEW that if I told her I had warts she wouldn’t want to sleep with me.
Maybe, maybe not. But I was young, and scared, and I didn’t know any different.
I never learned to talk about it
Neither did she.
We probably received the same sex education. Two hours in middle school to have a teacher show us how to put a condom on a banana.
I was still doing weekly research on the internet when I discovered discussion forums about people living with HPV. They discussed living with HPV and other STIs, and how to talk about having them. I can’t remember which forum I browsed back in 2001 but this one seems current and has a nice clean design. It’s about herpes but the idea is the same.
I learned how to talk about STIs on the internet. Learning how to talk about it and talking about it are two different things however.
Don’t ask, don’t tell
I realized I was responsible. For my sexual health, and for the sexual health of my partner.
Don’t ask don’t tell wasn’t going to cut it anymore.
The next time I found myself making out with a woman, I stopped the action when she reached for my zipper. It was one of the hardest thing to do.
I had to talk about it before it got any further. If she managed to get her hand into my pants it was over. No conversation was going to happen. Straight to the promised land.
It’s awkward until it isn’t
I started having super awkward conversations about having had warts. I’d been recently treated at this point and the warts were gone (finally) but I was still responsible to disclose. Just because I didn’t have them anymore didn’t mean I was entirely risk free.
I fumbled through the first handful of conversations. Still terrified but armed with information, I dove in. It was painful. I’ll spare you all the weird awkward shit I said. I tried to block most of it out anyway.
After doing it over and over (and over and over) again, it got easier to talk about. The message became clearer. Progress was being made.
Here’s the final product as it stands right now. It’s what I normally say. Sometimes I don’t say it all, and sometimes I say more. It’s a good place to start.
The three part ‘ask and tell’ conversation about STIs
1. I would like to talk about sex
I’d like to pause a bit and talk about sex. I don’t want to be presumptuous about what may or may not happen between us, but I’d like to talk about STIs, the last time we were tested, and our safer sex practices. I’ll go first.
You’ll have their attention, because don’t ask don’t tell was (and probably still is) the go to pre sex disclosure strategy. Get this though, while talking about sex can be uncomfortable, it’s also sorta hot. I’ve had partners tell me that stopping the action to talk about sex made them want to have sex even more.
Let’s go on.
2. I have or had a thing
I was recently diagnosed with HPV. I had warts. It really sucked. I had them treated multiple times. They’ve been gone for 3 months now but that doesn’t mean I’m risk free. I have lots of information about warts and I’d love to give you as much as you need. Would you like me to tell you what I know or do you have any questions?
Sometimes they’d ask questions. Sometimes they’d want to know everything I knew, and sometimes they were already informed. Then I’d tell them about my latest test, the results, and my practices.
3. I took a test and I use condoms (most of the time)
I was last tested 4 months ago. The results came back negative. I was tested for HIV, HPV, and chlamydia. I haven’t had unprotected vaginal intercourse since my last test, but I have received and given unprotected oral sex.
That’s a lot
It’s a lot if you’re not used to talking about it. But it’s the least you can do when it comes to you and your partner’s sexual health.
When we disclose we give our partners permission to disclose. The more we disclose about our health, our practices, and our wishes the more informed we become. The safer sex becomes.
Sex is risky. The best we can do is assess the risk and make informed decisions about who we’ll have sex with, what kind of sex we’ll engage in, and what we’ll do to protect ourselves and others. And we can’t do any of this without talking about it first.
Things I learned
No one laughed at me. Not one single person laughed when I told them I had had warts. A few were really concerned. Some were curious. Most were sympathetic. All were kind.
No one told the whole school. Or if they did I never found out about it. I probably would have heard.
And no one ever fully turned me down. On a few occasions we made the decision to watch each other masturbate instead of touching each other and risk infection.
Was I bummed? Not really. Did we still get naked? Yes. Was it awesome? Definitely.
Shaun Galanos is The Love Drive. He lives and writes in Montreal.