HPV And Homosexuals

April 3, 2009

Does being gay put you at a reduced risk for contracting HPV? Should you be having regular cervical or anal Pap smears to test for the Human Papillomavirus? The simple answer to your questions is yes, in both cases. It is important to know that HPV isn't always contracted through straight penis/vagina intercourse. You can get HPV through skin to skin contact, for instance through genital rubbing, and through oral or anal sex.

Pap Smears

One University of Washington study found that many lesbians, even those who have never had sex with men, still contracted HPV. But researchers still think HPV is found less within the gay and lesbian community. The greatest risk still seems to be linked with heterosexual intercourse. Even so, there's a great enough risk of contracting HPV through gay and lesbian sex to warrant the recommendation that lesbians get regular Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer, just as straight women should.

How bad is the contagion of HPV among gay men? One study found that 65% of all men who test negative for HIV test positive for HPV. The risk of HPV in men is far greater than that of HIV or AIDS. Men can get tested for the virus through an anal Pap smear. A sample of cells is also taken from the shaft and head of the penis. This is done with a small file. Most men testify that the procedure, while uncomfortable, is not painful.

Up to this point, doctors have not recommended that men get the gardasil vaccine against HPV, but Merck is now in the process of testing the vaccine for its safety and efficacy in men. For the most part, HPV is harmless to men, and is usually asymptomatic. However, anal sex with an infected partner can lead to the contraction of HPV and possible anal cancer, should warts ensue. Merck is looking for gay men who have had fewer than 5 male partners and are available for the three year run necessary for a gardasil trial. So far, 4000 men have been recruited as participants in the Merck trial on gardasil for gay men.

Calm Perspective

The statistics on anal cancer should give you a bit of calm perspective. Only 1% of sexually active men are found to have anal cancer in a given year. Also, only certain strains of HPV can be causal factors for a case of anal cancer. On the other hand, gay and bisexual men get anal cancer at a rate that is 35 times higher than that of heterosexual men.

 

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