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I'm a 26-year-old hetero male, and I recently started hooking up with a new girl. She's very cute and smart, and I'm really attracted to her. During a recent make-out session she informed me that she has HPV, the STD that causes genital warts. From what I've read, condoms don't necessarily mean you're safe. I've been sexually active for a number of years, and I've had unprotected sex with other partners. Could I have HPV already? Can you please shed some light on this disease for me? I really want to have sex with this girl, but not at the risk of screwing up my penis for the rest of my life. --Worrying About Warts

HPV is not a big deal.

Before an angry mob of Planned Parenthood educators gathers under my window, let me get this on the record: in the STD galaxy, HPV--aka the human papillomavirus--is a supernova. Twenty million Americans are currently infected with it, and every year six million more contract one of the more than 100 different known strains of the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50 percent of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV infection at some point during their lives. By age 50 at least 80 percent of women will have acquired HPV infection. Some strains of HPV can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, anus, or penis; other strains can result in unpleasant and unsightly warts on cocks, balls, pussy flaps, ass lips, etc, and condoms offer only minimal protection.

So where do I get off saying that HPV is no big deal? Because in the vast and overwhelming majority of cases, WAW, men and women with HPV show no symptoms, never develop a single genital wart, and don't come down with cancer of the stanky stuff. And we now know that, as the wonks at the CDC put it, "most people who become infected with HPV clear the infection on their own." For those who don't surgery is an option.

So even if you have sex with this girl and contract HPV, the odds that you will screw up your penis forever are slight. Sex always carries some risk, WAW, and when the risk is slight and the reward is great, most adults go for it.

Finally, when I say that HPV isn't that big a deal I don't mean to imply that people shouldn't seek treatment if they have warts or inform their sex partners if they know they're infected. Women in particular have to be vigilant. If you're a sexually active woman, assume you have HPV and get an annual Pap smear. According to the American Cancer Society, every year in the U.S. more than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 4,100 women die of the disease. Most of these cancers are caused by high-risk strains of HPV, and early detection through Pap tests saves lives. According to the CDC, most women who develop invasive cervical cancer have not had regular cervical cancer screenings. Don't let that happen to you, ladies.

I had a hysterectomy last year as a result of cervical dysplasia caused by HPV infection. My doctor said that I had had the virus for years, and that it generally takes that long to get to this point. I've never had the warts or anything. About two months ago I spent a week knocking boots with a friend. He knew I had had the hysterectomy, and he knew why. Some time later he slept with another girl. She discovered last week that she has cervical dysplasia, and she's accused me of spreading diseases. I explained that I didn't think she could have gotten to that point in the space of a month and that massive numbers of women have HPV without knowing about it. Did I give it to her? My doctor says no. My conscience says no. What's the deal? --Elsewhere

Here's another no for your collection, E: "It takes months to years to go from HPV infection to cervical changes," says Deborah Oyer, medical director of Seattle's Aurora Medical Services, which specializes in reproductive health care. "I can't imagine a woman getting HPV and in four weeks' time progressing to cervical dysplasia," which is the appearance of funky, potentially precancerous cells on the cervix. "I would absolve Elsewhere," Oyer continues, "but I can't say she's not contagious. If she still has HPV in her system, she could be."

Oh, and while we're on the subject of HPV: Researchers have been hard at work on two vaccines for it that in clinical trials prevented 90 percent of new HPV infections--good news, huh? Not for the religious right. Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council told New Scientist magazine that "giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex."

While the religious right's war on gay people gets all the headlines, their war on straight rights gains ground daily. They've destroyed sex education, undermined abortion rights, and successfully prevented emergency contraception from being made available over the counter. Now they're trying to block the HPV vaccine. Why? Because the American Taliban would rather see sexually active women dead than vaccinated.

Hello, straight people? If you don't want to live in a world where you need a license from the likes of Bridget Maher to have sex, premarital or otherwise, you had better start speaking up. Most of you seem content to rubberneck while gay people have the shit kicked out of us, and while that's maddening, I suppose it's understandable: it's not your fight. But what explains your passivity when your own rights are being attacked?

I contracted my first STD: gonorrhea. I got treated and I'm fine. My concern is about the guy who gave it to me. If he were just a random trick, I'd forget about it. But he's actually a nice guy. Should I tell him? And if so, any suggestions on how? --Gay Boy

There's a chance this nice guy doesn't know he has gonorrhea, GB. If a guy's cock is infected he'll experience a burning sensation during urination and discharge pus; if his ass is infected, his asshole will become inflamed and it'll be coated with pus. But a man can have a gonorrhea infection in his throat without experiencing any symptoms at all. So tell him.

How? Call him on the phone and say, "After we slept together I came down with gonorrhea, and I'm pretty sure I got it from you. I'm not angry, I don't think any less of you as a person, and I swear to God I won't gossip about this. But please go see a doctor."

If he really is a nice guy, GB, he'll thank you for letting him know. If he reacts badly, then he's not a nice guy. But you can take comfort in the fact that you are.

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