Coping With Human Papillomavirus Infection (HPV)

If you or your partner have just been diagnosed with human papillomavirus (HPV), you're certainly not alone. HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, it is thought that just about anyone who has had sex has been exposed to HPV.

The good news is that most HPV infections clear the body on their own. Regardless, there are a few things you can do to help cope, including understanding your diagnosis, taking care of your immune system, and more.

How to Cope With HPV

Ellen Lindner / Verywell

Know Your Diagnosis

Understanding what HPV infection is all about will really help you cope with your diagnosis.

There are typically two ways that you find out that you have HPV: You either are diagnosed with genital warts or you have abnormal changes on your Pap test and screen positive for HPV.

If you have been diagnosed with genital warts, treatment can remove the visible warts. However, you are still infectious to sexual partners. Fortunately, most people (about 80%) will clear the infection after 18 to 24 months.

It can take anywhere from three weeks to eight months after you have been exposed to HPV before you develop genital warts. The good news is that the warts are typically caused by the common low-risk strains of HPV, which means that once they are treated and the virus clears, you don't have a high risk for any long-term complications.

You may have found out through your routine Pap smear that you have been exposed to HPV. What happens next depends on the abnormality detected. Your healthcare provider will recommend the appropriate treatment or follow-up. Although it is still likely that your body will clear the infection on its own, more advanced changes on your cervix need to be followed closely to prevent progression to cervical cancer.

It is very important to get the HPV vaccine to reduce the risk of HPV infection. Condom use does not necessarily prevent contracting HPV.

HPV Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman

Boost Your Immune System

There are some things you can do to boost your immune system and help your body clear the virus.

Quit Smoking

If you are a current cigarette smoker and you have HPV you should do your best to quit smoking.

The nicotine in cigarettes gets absorbed into the cervical mucus and it is thought that this decreases your body's ability to clear the virus from your cervix.

Decrease Stress

Emotional stress causes many unhealthy changes in your body. When your body's stress hormone levels increase, your immune system doesn't work as well as it should. This means you can't fight off infections like HPV very effectively.

Making changes in your life to minimize your stress level is very important. Activities like yoga, tai chi, and meditation can help to reduce the effects of stress on your body.

Review Your Diet

There is some disagreement among experts on whether or not diet plays a role in helping your body get rid of HPV.

There is some thought that certain B-complex vitamins are effective in boosting your immune system when it comes to fighting off HPV. These are riboflavin (B2), thiamine (B1), vitamin B12, and folate.

Checking in on your diet and making sure it includes foods rich in these B vitamins is certainly not harmful and just may be helpful.

Seek Support

Of course, being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease can be very stressful and anxiety producing, but you should not be embarrassed about having HPV. You might be surprised that once you open up to trusted family, friends, or a support group about your diagnosis, you will find yourself in good company.

Talk with your healthcare provider about local resources for women diagnosed with HPV. For online support groups check out the American Sexual Health Association website.

Again, remember that HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and you are not alone.

Sex After Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with HPV is not a fatal blow to your sex life. Of course, you might need to sit out a few weeks if you are being treated for genital warts, but then it can be business as usual.

Because genital warts are so easily transmitted from skin-to-skin contact, your current sex partner should also get checked for genital warts.

You also might want to take the diagnosis as a time to reflect on your sexual practices. Having one sexual partner and consistent condom use decreases your overall risk of being exposed to another STI.

Wondering whether or not to tell a current or future partner about your abnormal pap or positive HPV test? When it comes to HPV diagnosed on screening tests, partner notification is a bit controversial. The experts say that it has little impact on transmission. Also, there is no screening test available to detect HPV in men.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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