HPV & Relationships

How will HPV affect my relationship/s?

The emotional impact of finding out that you or your partner has an STI can sometimes be worse than the actual infection.

It’s really important to gain some perspective about an STI diagnosis before any assumptions are made - and this is especially true with HPV.

Remember that 80% of unvaccinated adults will pick up HPV at some point in their life. As most HPV is invisible, partners will inevitably share it, and there is no way to know which partner it came from or when they got it.

In most people, HPV is harmless and causes no symptoms and will not develop into warts, pre-cancer or cancer. In a few people, HPV can cause genital warts or abnormal cells, both of which can develop months or years after acquiring an infection with HPV. There is no sure way to know when you were infected. 

This can be difficult to believe, especially for partners in long-term relationships who feel that some recent infidelity must be to blame. However, research continues to show that even patients who have not been sexually active for many years can suddenly develop warts or have abnormal cervical smears.

What should I tell my partner about HPV?

Partners will inevitably share HPV. This is normal. In new relationships, condoms do provide some protection against HPV and offer good protection from many other sexually transmitted infections.

 Key information to share is that:

  • Most (80%) of unvaccinated adults will pick up HPV at some point in their life.
  • In most people it causes no symptoms (you won't know you have it) so it is therefore unavoidably shared mainly through sexual (including oral) skin-to-skin contact.
  • In most people the virus is harmless and will not develop into warts, pre-cancer or cancer.
  • There is no sure way to know when HPV was acquired i.e. from which partner it came from or how long ago.
  • Sex partners who have been together tend to share HPV, even when both partners do not show signs of HPV. 
  • Having HPV does not mean that a person or their partner is having sex outside the current relationship. 
  • There is no treatment to eliminate HPV itself. HPV is usually dealt with by your body's immune system.
  • HPV does not stop you having a normal sex life.
  • There is no single HPV test (such as a blood test) to check for HPV status at multiple body sites. This means there is no test that can help answer the questions "Do I have HPV?", "Does my partner have HPV?", "Has my HPV gone?", "Can I have the vaccine?".

What about future sexual partners?

It is not clear if there is any health benefit to informing (future) partners about a past diagnosis of genital HPV or warts. This is because it is not known how long the virus remains and for most people, the virus is either suppressed or cleared by the immune system.

Remember that HPV is so common most people who have not had the HPV vaccination will at some point have a genital HPV infection, but because it is mostly invisible, it will never be diagnosed. 

With any new sex partner, condoms are important. Whilst condoms may not fully protect your partner from HPV, they do protect both of you from other sexually transmitted infections. For couples in long-term monogamous relationships, condoms are probably of little value in preventing HPV infections as partners will inevitably share HPV. 

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HPV & Relationships

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The emotional impact of finding out that you or your partner has an STI can sometimes be worse than the actual infection. It’s really important to…
HPV Project New Zealand

The NZ HPV Project is supported by: 

  • An educational grant from New Zealand District Health Boards
  • CSL Biotherapies Ltd NZ for an educational grant contributing to optimisation.

Brought to you by the Sexually Transmitted Infections Education Foundation (STIEF). 

For information or advice on where to seek help, please get in touch.

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CONTACT US


New Zealand HPV Project
C/- Sexually Transmitted Infections Education Foundation Inc (STIEF)

PO Box 2437, Shortland Street,
Auckland 1140, New Zealand

[email protected]

Tollfree: 0508 11 12 13
If calling from mobile: 09 433 6526